A friend of mine told me the other day that I’m a great networker. She was impressed that while I didn’t know the answer to her question, I knew someone else who probably did. This is the case more often than not for me – I may not know something, but I know who to ask, and can usually get an answer fairly quickly.
I started wondering if the ability to network is innate, or learned. I contend that I have learned to network because I had to. As a freelance technical writer/editor, I am constantly on the lookout for my next job. Every client I’ve ever gotten has been through networking – either from someone I knew, or someone who knew someone I knew.
I believe that being a freelancer, and always being on the lookout for my next job, has made me more aware of the importance of networking, and of exactly how much of my professional success is due to the people around me. Over the years, I have learned that is is almost always to my advantage to help others as much as I possibly can. Besides the short-term satisfaction of helping someone, some of my most lucrative contracts have come from referrals from people I have helped.
Even if I can’t help someone directly, I try to at least provide a pointer or two to someone who might know the answer. Sometimes it’s something they’ve already tried, but other times it’s something they haven’t thought of. They may be too close to the problem, or just haven’t come across the same resources as I have.
The ability to make new friends and connect with people is something that we are all born with, but like most things you get better with practice and concerted effort.
Building your own professional network has two parts – meeting new people, and strengthening the connections with those you already know. Most people find the latter to be much easier. All you have to do is to pay attention to the people you already know, listen to what they’re talking about, and look for ways to provide information that they will find useful and interesting. Take the time to drop them an email, have coffee or lunch, or just chat. You’ll learn what they’re interested in, and will be alert when you come across related information.
Over time, your will find it easier to do, and it will become a habit. You will become known as a valuable resource, and people will start referring others to you. Thus begins the ‘snowball effect’ – the more you help others, the more people come to you for help, and the more people you have to call on when you need help.
Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. The sooner you start exercising your innate ability to build connections with others, the longer you will be able to take advantage of your new expertise.
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2007).