Networking Tips

Most people know that networking is a good professional move: Useful contacts can translate into career success in terms of new business leads and valuable advice. But you may suffer from an all-too-common problem: You are simply too caught up in your current responsibilities to reach out to others.

Following are some networking tips for those who are so busy overachieving in every other aspect of their work lives that they underachieve in this one:

Root Canal = Connections. Even though you may dread having your tooth drilled, you never know who you might meet at the dentist’s office—or at the post office or grocery store, for that matter. While it’s tempting to rush through your daily errands, everyday situations such as these can become networking situations if you bring business cards with you and remain open to meeting people. Simply strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you or offer your services to your dentist if he happens to mention that he’s looking for someone to redesign his business card and website. Even if these conversations don’t lead to immediate work, the people you meet may eventually introduce you to new clients.

Attend Industry Events (at Least Once a Year). While professional events may seem like a taxing experience on both your time and wallet, they’re one of the easiest and most effective forums for reconnecting with old colleagues—and meeting new ones. In addition, you can brush up on your technical skills by attending conference panels. Given all of the benefits they provide, it’s difficult to come up with a valid excuse for not going to an event at least once a year.

Keep in Touch. Networking is more about the quality of the relationships you have than the quantity. That’s why one of the most important activities is to stay connected with those you already know. Every few months, e-mail or call old bosses or colleagues to catch up. You might also send pertinent articles or information to individuals who you know would be interested, even if the material is not directly related to work.

Remember that networking is a two-way street: If your former boss is an amateur photographer and you have tickets to a show opening in a local gallery, invite him to join you. Then, when you need his help finding work, you’ll already have established a relationship that isn’t based solely on your requests for professional assistance.

Recommend Others. Your current network already includes talented people in a variety of specialties and fields. If you and your contacts have professional websites, ask them to link to your home page and offer to return the favor. You also should direct business their way. After all, a time may come when you’re too busy or have the wrong skills for the project and need to refer the work to someone else. Chances are, they’ll do the same for you.

Say Thanks. If a client recommends you to someone new, thank him. You might take him out to lunch or write a personal note to let him know you appreciate his business and recommendation, for example. Showing your gratitude will solidify your relationship with your contact while encouraging that person to continue to refer you.

Create a Simple Newsletter. A newsletter is a smart way to stay in touch with old clients and colleagues and remind them that you’re available for work. While you might equate the word "newsletter" with the term "time-intensive," you can create one on a quarterly basis without too much effort. The key is simplicity: Stick to a clean design and a one-page format. Include information that could be useful to clients, such as upcoming events they might want to attend. You also should briefly mention the current projects you’re working on so recipients are reminded of your talents.

While these networking approaches require some time and consideration, it’s likely to be minimal; in fact, most of them can easily be integrated into your existing routine. The good news is that putting in just a little effort can yield big results, helping to ensure you have a steady stream of work now—and in the future.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and Web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.