How to grow your network in 2021

How to grow your network in 2021

I’m so excited to share the blog’s first Guest Post with Shona Chambers. Shona provides a wealth of knowledge and experience in small business marketing, as well as being a fantastic cheerleader for small businesses. I’m quite in awe of all the things Shona is involved with (and her time management, unless she’s found a way to freeze time!).

Whether you are already well established in your career or you are planning to make 2021 the year your side hustle becomes your full time job networking is of vital importance.

For many the word networking is synonymous with men in suits handing out as many business cards as possible. But it really doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve been running a networking group for over three years and I’ve written about that in this piece with a few of the ways you could be networking right now in 2021.

What is a network?

A network very simply is another name for the people around you who can help you and who you seek to help. 

It could be the people you went to school with, your college friends, your family, or members of your sports team.  

Don’t overcomplicate the matter. If you know someone they are part of your network.  

If you are considering starting in a new direction this year then take a moment to think who could help you with that. I would recommend simply sitting with a pad and pen and jotting down anyone that comes to mind. 

Next, send that person a short message to tell them what you are planning to do, and make a polite request for their help. 

Back in the pre-covid days you could have invited them out for a coffee and a chat. Now it may be that an email conversation or request to do a short Zoom meeting might be more suitable. 

If you are already well established in your career, but want to network more this year the same advice really applies.   Think about who could help you or who you would like to collaborate with.  Have a list of ways in which you could help them too, and then get in touch.  

Networking Tools

We are so lucky in 2021, there are so many different networking tools at our disposal.  The most well known platform is probably LinkedIn.  Many people see it as very corporate, but it is a very useful tool and so I’d recommend keeping it up to date, asking for recommendations there, and posting relevant articles that showcase your skills and achievements.  You can even post a short voice note that lets you record your name.  My name has long been mispronounced or mispelled so it’s a handy one to include if your name is similarly tricky for new contacts.

If you are planning to send a LinkedIn request, I’d always recommend you include a short note too.  There is nothing worse than getting cold LinkedIn requests where you do not know the person and can’t see what a link could be.  

If you are the one sending the cold contact, make sure you have done your homework.  Tell the person you loved their last book, or admired a project they’ve recently completed.  You are way more likely to receive a positive response that way.

When it comes to networking big isn’t always better

Now more than ever don’t wait to be invited to join in with things. If you hear about someone who you’d like to network with, why not create a 121 networking situation that you can both take part in?

I was recently approached by a resilience coach, Lisa Townsend, who has held over seventy 1-2-1 coffee chats with people she was interested in. 

She sent me a Zoom invitation with some context on why we might both find a chat of benefit and I accepted right away.  

We had a lovely conversation, it wasn’t awkward at all, and we both came away with new contacts to network with in the future. 

If you have ever attended an online networking event and felt overwhelmed by the numbers, then this could be a really viable solution for you. 

How to grow your network in 2021

If you see an event you like, just book it!

Because of the pandemic our networking options are now even better. Here are two examples for me personally of how networking is just so much easier at the moment. 

Last month I was a speaker at a networking event where there were global attendees because of the theme of the meeting. 

If you are a graphic designer living in New York and you see an event in London that sounds interesting, the distance is no longer an issue at all.

I’ve also joined events from my home in London, where the other guests all lived in Lancashire, at a start up accelerator business. 

Zoom makes expanding your network geographically easier than ever. 

Going Deeper

Another tip I’d give you is to look at the relationships you already have and see if there is more you could do together.  

As a massive book worm, I write book reviews on business topics for a magazine Parents in Biz

This year I decided that I’d ask some of the authors of books I’d reviewed if they’d like to do Instagram lives with me where we chatted more about their books.  

As the topics were directly relevant to the people who follow me, and them, it proved to be a great collaboration and received lots of views and engagement.

One of the authors Joanne Dewberry is a networking expert and her book is all about that. She has created networking groups, franchised, and eventually sold them.

After our live together I joined her new networking Facebook group which is really great and I’m enjoying the topics she presents and contacts I’ve made.  

The fact she is based in Dorset and I in London really doesn’t matter anymore.  

Make networking a habit

Like anything else it takes time to create a habit around networking. While you are still bedding it in, I’d recommend using a diary or your phone to set reminders to take an action towards building your network every day. 

Here are a few quick suggestions of how a week of networking could look:

Monday – Find and join some Facebook Groups that are relevant to your career. Make careful note of the days when you can self promote. Most Facebook Groups have a set day where you are allowed to tell people what your latest projects are, or post your social media links.

Tuesday – Send someone you want to get to know better a LinkedIn request making sure you personalise it as much as possible.

Wednesday – Book into a lunchtime networking session, many are free and even include a speaker talk so you can learn at the same time.

Thursday – Check Twitter and find experts in your field. Follow them, and comment on their latest tweets ( if you have something useful to add) this helps others in your career area to see you, and you may even establish a relationship with an expert too.

Friday – Send an email to all your contacts telling them what you are trying to do this year and asking anyone who is interested to get in touch, or to forward your message to someone who could help you.

Thanks for reading, I hope my networking tips have been helpful to you!

Shona

Bio: After 20 years working in Marketing for both large corporations and as an independent consultant, Shona Chambers now provides marketing training and support for small business owners.

She is also the founder of Self Employed Club which you can join in with either on Instagram or Facebook @selfemployedclub and hopefully in person again soon.

She is the author of 100 Marketing Tips for Small Business Owners available to read in Ebook format on Amazon.

You can find out more from her website www.shonachambersmarketing.co.uk or say hello via Instagram/Facebook or Twitter @shonachambersmarketing 

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