5 Tips for Starting to Network (and How I Used Them to Organize my First Meet-up!)
You know the saying. “It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know.” You’ve probably hear some iteration of this at one point or another. I can recall back in college when I first moved to California and learned the importance of “networking,” and I remember thinking to myself that networking seemed to come so easily to everybody… but me. For a while, I struggled with the idea of putting myself out there and networking with people outside my immediate circle. A lot of us do.
These days, it seems like everyone is gravitating towards a path of independent employment. I have friends who are freelancers, independent contractors, bloggers, creative boutique agency owners, and dedicated side hustlers. When I’m not writing here, I also freelance and dream of what it will be like to one day own my own business, too. This trend towards self employment is fantastic, and it seems like now more than ever people are really pounding the pavement to stand out from the crowd and “make it” doing what they love. But all of these paths have one key things in common: they’re lonely. Being your own boss means just that–it’s only you. When you’re blogging or working in front of your laptop at home all day, it’s easy to develop introverted tendencies, and become comfortable being separated from others. But doing so could seriously hurt your career. In early 2017, I didn’t notice it at first, but I spent the first half of the year not necessarily avoiding networking, but definitely not actively going out of my way to seek those kinds of opportunities. Towards the end of the year, I began realizing that other people around me were “growing” (in terms of experience, exposure, opportunities) way faster than I was. One key difference? They were putting themselves out there. I was not.
It’s so easy to avoid doing the difficult thing. But the difficult thing is what’s going to push you to the next level. I realized this (begrudgingly), and started focusing more time and energy on what it means to grow my network in a meaningful and mutually beneficial way, and have some fun while doing it! While there are a million different ways to go about networking, and everyone has unique goals so this path may look different depending on who you are, here are the 5 key things you can start doing to develop and grow your network (especially if you’re just starting out!)
1. Don’t be afraid to join the conversation
More often than not, the people in your career circle want to share and discuss things with other like-minded individuals (possibly you!). Everyone wants to feel like they’re being listened to, and that people are actually paying attention to what they have to say. Don’t be afraid to comment on someone’s post, answer a question they tweeted, or even send them an email/DM if something they said resonated with you. Obviously, be respectful, but reaching out and saying “hey, I’m listening and I like what you’re saying/sharing/doing!” is a great way to start connecting with others.
2. Join networking groups
As a blogger, I was really hesitant about blogger groups. There are lots of (in my opinion) stupid groups out there for liking/commenting without ever taking the time to actually get to know each other. So for the longest time, I avoided them altogether. Then, last year, I finally decided to try and participate in a few groups where I felt like there was an opportunity to network, talk blogging, and actually get to hang out every now and then (example: groups with other bloggers in my area). In doing so, I’ve gotten to actually connect with other brands, get more opportunities, and help support other bloggers in the process. No matter what field you’re in, there’s probably a group or event out there to try and participate in. And if there isn’t, make your own (read about how I did this at the end of this post!).
3. Be genuine (Don’t be a fake supporter)
As you’re beginning to grow your network and chat with others, absolutely make the effort to be genuine. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s painfully obvious when you go into a conversation or a meeting with only your end-goal in mind. If you’re going to comment on a post, make it a genuine comment and show that you’ve taken the time to read their post or their blog. If you’re talking to a group of people, don’t just compliment others so that you can fish for compliments in return. People will know, and you won’t get the long-lasting relationships you’re looking for out of it.
4. Give more than you take
We all have that one friend who mooches whenever you buy food or beer, and then always conveniently forgets to pay you back. When getting to know others in your circle, be mindful of their needs and wants as much as–if not more than–your own, especially to start. Give more than you take, and be supportive of and open to helping others. Know a blogger who needs help reaching out to a brand you’ve worked with in the past? Make the connection for her. Spoke to someone in your industry recently who’s in need of resume help, and you just happen to be a designer? Offer to take a look. And no, not everyone will “pay” you back, but those that do often times prove to be the ones who stick around the longest, and these are ultimately the people you want in your “network.” Support breeds support.
5. Want to meet up? Just ask
Networking online is great, but no matter how sophisticated digital communication may get, nothing beats a face-to-face conversation. Make the effort to go to coffee meet-ups or networking happy hours every once in a while. And, if there’s no formal meeting or event coming up, why not create your own? In fact, for the first time in my entire life, I did just that this past January.
MY FIRST BLOGGER MEETUP
I spent a lot of 2017 wondering what the point of my voice in the blogging world. I know that my voice occupies only a slice of the vast void that is the internet, and I worry every now and then that what I’m doing will never be enough, or have an impact, or make my readers feel like they can relate to me in the ways I had hoped. To top it all off, I was having all of these worries alone. And when you’re worrying about your work alone–without any feedback or anyone to hear you out and relate to–it can really debilitate you. It wasn’t until the end of 2017 that I realized it didn’t have to be that way. And, after attending a number of blogger/creative meetups hosted by other influencers-turned-friends, I decided to take a stab at doing my own. 2018 is the year of taking chances, and I did make a New Year’s Resolution about networking, didn’t I?
I reached out to a bunch of local OC/LA bloggers, some I had met once or twice before, others I had never met, and I did exactly what I told you about above in point #5. To me, the value of getting to meet and chat about our shared experiences (both good and bad) blogging outweighed the fear I felt at reaching out and not getting any interest or response (which is my worst nightmare, by the way! My fear of people not coming to events is such a weird and specific phobia, that when I graduated from college, I was so afraid of inviting people that I had my mom cancel my grad party entirely–no joke!). But I sucked it up and went for it, thanks to the support of a few other blogger girls I had already met in person whose encouragement helped me do what felt impossible. When you reach out to others and you feel like your interaction could provide mutual value, remember that more often than not, others will feel thrilled that you want to meet up. Odds are, they’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this too. It’s tough to take the first step and reach out, but networking and getting to know others moving through life in a similar way to you is invaluable for helping you feel like you’re doing the right thing, like you’re moving at the right pace, and that you’re not actually an imposter. And–perhaps most importantly–networking helps you to share your experiences, learn from others’, and grow collectively as a result.
Last month, after successfully gathering together a group of bloggers (hurrah!), we met up at Cuppa Cuppa (a cool little coffee shop corner in Long Beach) for coffee, conversation, and snacks. After coffee, we walked down to Berlin Bistro (a small bistro focused on highlighting local ingredients in unique ways–one of my favorite places to eat in all of Long Beach!) for lunch and drinks. It wasn’t an overly contrived or planned meetup, and it didn’t have to be. In fact, in order to keep the focus on getting to know one another, I made sure that this meetup wasn’t bogged down by “sponsorships” or “blogger work.” The afternoon was instead spent discussing how we’d gotten to where we were, where we wanted to go in the near future, the collaborations and projects we worked on or were currently doing, our struggles, failures, triumphs, and all that good stuff. It was without a doubt a perfect day filled with badass women (and my boyfriend behind the camera), good coffee, delicious food, and much-needed honest conversation.
When you work independently, it’s tough to remember that you’re not the only one going through ups and downs. Connecting over collective successes and failures helps to realign your headspace and remind you that you’re not alone. I can only imagine that the other women who came felt the same way, because I absolutely did. At the end of the day, my biggest measure of success is getting to connect with others (other bloggers, as well as YOU, my readers). I hope this event, and this post, inspire you to put yourself out there in ways that I wasn’t able to until very recently. You can expect more events like this from me in the future!
Finally, if you’re in the Los Angeles/Orange County area and in the blogging/freelance creative/marketing space, let’s plan a meet-up! The new and improved version of myself (the girl who actually wants to network) finally realizes that behind every badass woman is a tribe of women (and men, of course) who have helped her get to be where she is today, and it’s more important than ever, these days, to be part of that movement.
This post is part of a collaboration with Berlin Bistro and Make Collectives. Berlin Bistro offered our group a discount on their menu items. This outfit (jumpsuit, leather fanny pack, tassel earrings, and sunglasses) is c/o Make Collectives. A huge thank you to Berlin Bistro and Make Collectives for helping me make this day possible. If you're in Long Beach, I honestly recommend checking both of these places out!