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Build your network before you need it

Build your network before you need it
Jen Schaeffers, Founder, NetworkinginVan.com

Early on in my career I had a pretty narrow view of networking. I thought networking was only for people who needed jobs. I loved my job so why waste my time? I was going to be in that job forever, it was my dream job….yah right. The funny thing about landing “dream jobs” is once you have it, something else becomes your dream job (or at least it did for me). How very, very wrong I was. Networking affords you so much more than just the opportunity for a new job.

Networking is not just for job seekers. Networking is also not just for people who want to sell you something. And let's all stop conjuring up images of networking as this awkward conversation with some sleazy sales guy who thrusts a business card in your hand the moment you meet him. Ok, ok, this CAN happen but in my experience – these occurrences are few and far between.

In the last two years I have built a bit of a networking “strategy”. Yes, you should have one of those. It is your time and it is your money and it is precious! At first it was more lack of strategy – ie. machine gun approach, going out to as many events as I could and meeting as many new people in hopes to grow my network. Then after about six months of that I began to really hone in on the types of events and the types of speakers I really derived value from. And in the last little while, I have slowed down my networking considerably. Now as many as you know I do have a young toddler at home and another one on the way – so that is part of “slowing down”. But primarily it is because of : (1) I've become good at saying “no” (2) I really only try to attend events that contain some kind of “professional development”. I want to learn something new that is going to better me personally or professionally, hear a great panel of speakers or be inspired by a keynote presenter.

I would encourage you to give some thoughts to what your networking strategy is. Why do you want to meet new people? What new things do you want to learn? What associations and organizations in the city are affording you both an opportunity to learn AND meet cool, like minded people at the same time? We have a great list of these organizations on our site and I encourage you to go to a few events before committing to any kind of membership.

I feel very blessed to have met an incredible array of dynamic, intelligent, warm, funny and interesting individuals as a result of my networking efforts over the last two years. They have provided me with support, advice, laughter, new friendship, introductions and kindness. They have made me push myself and they have made me self reflect. I am wiser for having to gotten to know them and I never would have met such wonderful individuals if I hadn't “put myself out there”. In fact, 98% of the women in our making a difference feature series and men who mentor series are people I would have never met, had I not attended an event and spoken to the person sitting next to me.

I feel I have built an excellent network. I know one day in the future I may turn to this network in a big way for something perhaps? I hope that by helping others along the way, I will continue to be guided on the right path as well. Networking is about helping others. It's the law of reciprocity – AND IT ROCKS.

Let me know how networking has helped you! What have you gained from growing your connections? Comments below are welcomed and appreciated. Follow me on twitter: @jenu2

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