Networking is never truly fun, but it's vital to your career. Some people are natural at it, and others struggle.
When I first graduated from college, networking meant going to conferences or cocktail parties with a name card stuck to your lapel and engaging in awkward conversations. It feels so 1990s, but it's still the way many of us do it, and it's not effective.
True networking is a much more organic experience. I've learned through the years how very powerful people network. If you're trying to get a powerful person to talk to you, the usual methods almost never work (i.e., cold calling or emailing an intro). The fact is, these people are too busy, they've got 1,000 phone calls and emails a day, and the last thing they have time for is a generic correspondence from someone they don't know.
Instead, think of how to make yourself someone they would want to connect to. A great Harvard Business Review piece likens it to "inbound marketing." Think of what you have that would generate interest from outsiders so that they seek you out. As the author suggests, and with a few added thoughts, you can do this in one of three ways:
1. Create a brand that you're known for. I've talked before about creating a "book" about you. What is it that people immediately think of when your name comes to mind? If you're the problem solver, build on that brand. If you're the genius marketer, build on that, too, and become known for it. Once you have carved that niche, you can bring much more to the table in any situation than if you're just a generalist. Before long, powerful people who need help will seek you out, or you'll become the person others refer to for special situations.
2. Turn from powerless to powerful yourself. Kevin Ryan gave me a light-bulb moment during one of our Radiate podcast interviews (Listen to the podcast here on iTunes or here on SoundCloud.) He said he goes into any pitch meeting with the idea that he is giving an investor an opportunity to make money with him. Rather than look at himself as "pitching" or "asking" for money, he's offering them an opportunity. That little change in mindset is all you need to go from hat-in-hand beggar to warrior. Some ways to get yourself in that mindset include hosting dinners where you invite powerful people to connect; writing articles that turn you into an expert; and even, if you have some cash to invest, becoming an angel investor so people turn to you for help and advice.
3. Make yourself interesting and memorable. When successful people get together, they almost never talk about business. It's actually boring to talk about work. Much more interesting is to discuss politics, sports, pop culture. A lot of successful people have hobbies or interests like golf, wine, sports--think of Warren Buffett and his love of bridge. Guaranteed that your being a great bridge player would get Buffett's attention far faster than your being a smart investor. Think of how you can expand your knowledge and areas of interest to make yourself much more memorable when people meet you.
If you like this article, you'll love my new podcast, Radiate, featuring interviews with CEOs, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders. You can click on new episodes on iTunes, SoundCloud, or on my website, www.betty-liu.com. Here is the RSS feed, too. And please don't forget to review the podcast or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.