One trait common to new entrepreneurs: They think they can do it alone.
The “lone wolf” mindset is a symptom of the hero complex that a lot of ambitious people have—and that, in an individualistic culture, is hard to avoid.
But it’s also inherently limiting. When you try to make it alone, you’re limited to your local knowledge and experience—what you’ve learned and what you’ve been through. This excludes all the wisdom of people who’ve undertaken similar ventures and learned along the way.
Most lone wolves reach a point where they feel the pain of these limits. At that point, it becomes crucial to expand their network—to forge relationships that help them push past the limits of local knowledge (and do the same for their network).
Good networking goes beyond mere exchanges of business cards. Here’s why it matters, and how to turn it into a superpower.
The many benefits of networking
– It builds strong relationships. This is the foundational benefit of networking; every other benefit starts with this one. As experienced professionals know, strong relationships are the backbone of success, whatever your vocation.
– It builds your personal and professional brand. Networking opportunities gives you a chance to demonstrate your values and professionalism to an entirely new set of people. Being prepared and engaging in networking conversations makes a strong impression on people with the power to influence your career.
– It exposes you to new opportunities (and vice versa). Especially in a job market as tight as our current one, job candidates need every advantage they can get during the hiring process. A strong network means you’re top-of-mind—in a positive way—when your connections have new opportunities that match your credentials.
– It gives you a way to give back. Networking is not a one-time, one-way action. It’s a long-term, two-way street, where everyone involved helps and seeks help from everyone else. Good networking means you’re finding ways to give back to those who help you, making you a strong member of a broader social community.
How to network successfully
- Bring the right mindset. Understand that networking is as much about giving as it is about getting. Always be thinking of ways to contribute to relationships—not just take from them.
- Default to “informational interviews.” You can’t always anticipate the benefits of a networking conversation. Each conversation is like planting a seed—but unlike in agriculture, they don’t always blossom on a seasonal schedule. Go in with the goals of giving and receiving information, and of creating a positive impression.
- Join groups and attend conferences. Whoever actually said it, it’s true: 90% of life is showing up. Our time on this planet is scarce, so what we choose to do with it is meaningful. Showing up where like-minded and like-skilled professionals go—groups, conferences, etc.—will naturally grow your network.
- Network in an engaging way. Every interaction is a chance to make an impression—whether you realize it or not. Prepare for every conversation by learning as much about the other person as you can. When you talk, listen well, participate actively, and focus more on having a good conversation than on “pitching” yourself.
- That said, know how to pitch yourself. Most networking conversations won’t revolve around a specific opportunity. But when those conversations do happen, it’s good to know how to explain who you are and what you do. Write, rehearse, and seek feedback on the 30-second elevator pitch for yourself.
- Make friends with social media. Staying active on social media doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But the fact is, it’s an incredible networking resource. You don’t have to be the world’s most active social media user, you just have to find a rhythm that works for you, and that you can sustain. Making posts and engaging with other people’s posts are the two prongs; iterate on a cadence that works for you.
Networking is in many ways its own reward. Finding common ground with other people trying to live meaningful lives is a deeply rewarding act—and a key indicator of happiness. Treating networking this way—as a never-ending process that contains intrinsic rewards—will set you up for all the other collateral benefits networking brings.