Probably didn’t think about that, did you?
I know—it is tough to talk to people you don’t know, and that is important. But once you understand this aspect to networking, you’ll realize that your first conversation will be much easier.
Let’s look at the best places to expand your network and some warnings about the places not on the list.
Your place of work. What? One of the most underrated and highest quality places to expand your network is where you work. You have a number of things in common which is a basic building block to relationship development. You also have opportunities when you go to work each day and run in to countless people in a whole variety of ways. What you probably are not doing is focusing on this group. More than likely you have people you don’t have contact with on a frequent basis, like vendors or customers, but your network will expand when your mind expands on the possibilities.
Your previous places of business. Yes, there are probably a huge number of people you simply left behind without any further con-tact. Many of those people you really liked. Wouldn’t it be great to reconnect? The best place to reconnect is through LinkedIn. You can do searches by places of work and find more people than you realize. Connect with all of these people and systematically catch up on their work lives. This is a huge network growth opportunity.
Your neighborhood. Some people come and go from their home and pay little attention to the people around them. You will find that most people are friendly if you spend a few minutes to get acquainted. Look for opportunities to go outside when you see a neighbor working out-side and introduce yourself. If you have a neighborhood association, attend the meetings and you will quickly expand your network.
Natural affiliations. If you don’t belong to a religious community, hobby groups or groups related to your personal interests, you should strongly consider finding one. The great thing about these groups is the purpose of the group itself. When you automatically have an interest or personal value in common, it makes conversations much easier.
Non-Profits. By volunteering to support your favorite non-profit, you are not only doing something worthwhile, you are in the nest of the best-connected, biggest network around. Non-profits only exist by being connected with a large network. When you are part of a non-profit, you have access to that network and also have the interest of the non-profit in common.
Warning: You’ll notice an absence of suggestions for what might be considered a “generic” networking group. These groups could be oriented toward job seekers or business networking. In either case, there isn’t a backdrop to these groups that would naturally draw two people together to form a relationship. They lack a natural affinity. Most people attending these groups have a very specific agenda and that is to advance their own cause. That is very understandable but it’s not a good foundation to form a relationship. It can also feel very predatory.
When thinking about expanding your network, think about finding people like the people you know right now. There were things you had in common with them and that’s what drew you together. It can also make networking less intimidating.