For most of us, networking isn’t at the top of our to-do list. It can be awkward (or worse, boring) and it can take time away from clients and deadlines. But, here’s the thing. Networking and the connections you build play a critical role in both your personal and professional growth. Networking can even be fun.
There will always be an easy excuse for why you are too busy to attend a networking event, but here are five reasons why you should say yes to networking in the New Year.
1. Connections, connections, connections. We all joke about 6 degrees of separation – the idea that any person can be connected to another through a chain of 5 or less acquaintances – but it’s never truer than in networking. In fact, in 2016 the social network Facebook published a study that showed it’s then 1.59 billion users were connected to each other by an average of only 3.46 connections. (Bromwich, Jonah. “Six Degrees of Separation? Facebook Finds a Smaller Number.” The New York Times. 4 February 2016.) When you walk into a room full of strangers, you never know who you will meet, what surprising ties you might have in common and where these new connections might lead. The more networking connections you have, the greater the opportunities that are available to you both now and in the future.
2. Learn from the mistakes of others. Networking is an opportunity to exchange war stories about what’s worked, what hasn’t as well as industry trends. Lahle Wolfe writes in Network More Aggressively to Grow Your Business, “Networking helps you to make valuable connections that could lead to contracts, opportunities, sales, investors, and clients. But networking also gives you a peer group to share ideas and experiences with. Exchanging information with other business professionals can help you learn mistakes to avoid and glean ideas from the success tips of other entrepreneurs.” (Wolfe, Lahle. “Network More Aggressively to Grow Your Business.” TheBalance.com. 9 October 2017.)
3. Be Human. In today’s digital age, email and technology offers countless advantages to collaborate with colleagues around the world, to telecommute and to quickly and efficiently communicate with staff, vendors and clients. However, for all the innovation and advantages of digital communication, nothing replaces the value of face-to-face communication. In his book Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, social scientist and author Matthew Lieberman makes the case that, “the human need to connect with other people is even more fundamental, more basic, than the need for food or shelter.” (Cook, Gareth. “Why we are Wired to Connect.” ScientificAmerican.com. 22 October 2013.) So, the case could be made that networking is not only good for our careers, but it’s essential.
4. Get connected on LinkedIn. There is no replacing the value of human contact, but not all networking needs to be done in person. Social networks like LinkedIn offer valuable tools for networking with other professionals in your industry, alumni and thought leaders, as well as to stay connected after networking events. William Arrunda writes, “In growing your network, you want it to be both diverse and concentrated. On one hand, you need to benefit from the power of diversity in networking (here’s a great post that explains why this is important) – yet you must also make sure you have a concentration of connections to people in your sphere of expertise. LinkedIn lets you meet both needs at once.” (Arruda, William. “LinkedIn 201: How To Cultivate A Powerful Network.” Forbes.com. 5 February 2017.)
5. Friends for Life. We’ve all heard the famous line, “you had me at hello,” from the movie Jerry Maguire. No matter how shy or outgoing your social personality, all it takes is a simple “hello” to meet someone new. Networking events are an opportunity to meet diverse and interesting people. Sometimes you instantly click with a person and sometimes the friendship slowly grows as you continue to encounter one another throughout the years. Actor James Garner said it best, “You can never have too many friends.”
Next time you’re tempted to pass on that association luncheon or after-work mixer, skip the excuses and say yes to networking. What are the most important benefits you’ve found from networking? We want to hear your thoughts!