I don't like networking. When I hear the word, I imagine the ultimate schmoozer, thanks to reductive platitudes like "It's not what you know, it's who you know."
My mentor put it to me in a different way: always be flirting, or ABF.
No, this doesn't apply to romance, and you don't need to be creepy.
The idea is that you should be building relationships, no matter where you are in your career. When the time inevitably comes when you're looking for a new job or freelance opportunity, you won't need to scramble through your contacts to reach out to people you haven't talked to in years because you've been building connections all along.
Once I approached networking from this perspective, it benefited my career tremendously. Every job or freelance opportunity I've had is because of a relationship I fostered elsewhere. I had the skill to back it up, but that connection is what got me through the door, every time.
This kind of automatic networking is exhausting to put into practice, especially if you're an introvert. Though you can't automate real relationships, Zapier can help you automate tedious tasks and make networking an ingrained part of your routine. Our automatic workflows, which we call Zaps, send information from one app to another, so you can stop worrying about what you'll write in that email and more time building connections.
To get started with a Zap template—what we call our pre-made workflows—click on it, and we'll guide you through customizing it. It only takes a few minutes. You can read more about setting up Zaps here.
Organize your cold networking
Many businesses use customer relationship management (CRM) software to organize leads, customers, and track deals. What if you had your own personal CRM, but for networking? Before you run away screaming (or close this browser window), hear me out.
Networking isn't just attending meet-ups, happy hours, or conferences anymore. It's also occurring on social media and in Slack communities. And it's becoming less formalized, which is comforting for people who feel icky about it.
However, this decentralization can also make it hard to follow up, say, when someone tweets about a new job posting. Creating your own personal CRM can help you keep track of things you want to follow up on, and organize the professional contacts you already have. If your current method of organizing your contacts is searching through your smartphone or your email inbox, this is a tactic worth trying.
Your personal CRM—or address book, Rolodex, or whatever you want to call it—can be as simple as a spreadsheet. First, create a spreadsheet in your app of choice. It can be organized like this Airtable template, or a blank Google Sheet with a few labeled columns.
Then, whenever you see someone on Twitter or Slack mentioning a topic you're interested in, use a Zap to add those messages to your CRM so you can hang onto them and find them later.
Send Saved Messages in Slack to a Google Spreadsheet
Record New Twitter Followers into a Google Spreadsheet
Create Airtable records for new tweets liked in Twitter
You can also use another automatic workflow—or if you have a paid Zapier plan, add another step to your existing Zap—to add items to a task management app.
Now, you might be wondering why you even need the spreadsheet step. If you want to get away from the extractive feeling of networking, it's worth hanging onto contact information for people you network with online. Remember, if you're building and fostering connections when you least need it, it will be easier to reach out when you're in a bind.
Reach out to new people you meet
I'm shy, kind of. I'm great at having conversations with people at networking and business events, but when the day is over, and I'm staring down a stack of business cards, I freeze.
Do I reach out first? Do I wait for them? How many days? It feels straight out of a teen movie, and I don't like it.
If you can relate, you'll like the next few Zaps, which will take care of the follow-up.
I have a tin full of business cards I've received from other people. I try to reach out to new connections after an introduction, but I'm not always successful. Writing that introductory email can be nerve-wracking.
Email templates are great for nervous people like me. You have a general structure of what you want to say, and you just need to personalize it a little to make it professional, yet friendly.
Try one of the Zaps below, which automatically sends an email to new contacts you add to Google Contacts or Microsoft Outlook. You won't forget to reach out to that person that you met at a virtual happy hour.
Greet new Google Contacts with an email from Gmail
When customizing your message in the Zap Editor, you can create your own templated email, using the information from your contact as placeholders in your message.
Respond to Twitter follows
Work conferences are great for my Twitter game. I won't lie; it feels good to have a bunch of retweets and new followers because I've been tweeting throughout a conference.
They interact with my tweets because they're interested in what I have to say, so responding is a friendly thing to do—and builds out your network. But anyone who's been to a conference in-person knows how hectic those events are. Monitoring your Twitter account is likely the last thing on your mind. With the move to virtual conferences recently, the pace is different. You're not hunting for a sandwich at a coffee shop between sessions, but you're likely juggling work (and maybe child-rearing) on top of attending.
Networking is probably the last thing on your mind, so set up a Zap to send a tweet to your new Twitter followers. They'll appreciate the gesture, and it's a small step to building your network while you're trying to juggle everything else in the world.
Keep your existing network updated
Remember, networking shouldn't be extractive. You, dear reader, have something to offer to your professional contacts too. That's why you'll see informal mentorships pop up in your field—some people want to give back to folks just coming up in a particular industry. You've likely had someone help you out along the way.
Keep your mentors—and other folks in your professional network—updated on what you've been doing, and offer to help them out as well if they need it. The simplest way to do so is by setting up an automatic workflow to create email drafts on a schedule to send out.
I use a template that I customize heavily to email my mentor every quarter, at a minimum. It's a simple way for me to give back to a person who has helped me tremendously in my career.
You never know what can come out of a simple email. Maybe the recipient is hiring for a new position, saw your email, and thought you'd be perfect. You'll never know if you don't reach out.
It's hard to be always "on" when you're trying to network, but these Zaps will help you become a more proactive networker. It can only help your career.
Try this LinkedIn trick: Find Nearby
Even if your LinkedIn profile is woefully out of date, it is still one of the best places for networking and finding job opportunities. Though in-person networking is out of the question for a while, save this tip for later.
LinkedIn has a Find Nearby feature on its iOS and Android mobile apps which allows you to find the profiles of people nearby. It's a handy feature for those in-person conferences, meetups, or networking events.
How to set up Find Nearby
These directions and screenshots are for an iPhone. The LinkedIn app on other mobile operating systems may look or function differently.
First, open up the LinkedIn app on your smartphone. Tap on My Network located at the bottom of the screen. Then, tap the floating blue button.
You'll see three options pop up. Tap Find Nearby, which should be off. You'll need to give LinkedIn permission to access your Bluetooth.
Once you turn Find Nearby on, you should see this screen. LinkedIn will only search for nearby contacts if you are on this page. You can access this page by repeating these steps.