by Ivan Estrada, author of “Brand With Purpose: Find Your Passion, Stay True to Your Story, and Accelerate Your Career“
At first, I made the mistake of thinking that successful networking was a numbers game. I used to go to every networking event I could possibly attend, and pass out as many business cards as I could. That was a huge mistake and a waste of time. Your enduring relationships depend on your authentic branding efforts.
Building a network is about the quality of connections. It’s about the amount of time you spend with your colleagues. It’s about creating a win-win scenario for each of the people in your sphere. It also comes down to chemistry and personality. At the end of the day, we do business with people we like, people with whom we have things in common.
Building a quality network has a compounding effect if it is done correctly. I have created a weekly networking schedule for myself: three lunches, three coffees, one large networking event, and 20 follow-up calls. The crucial thing in building a network is not to forget about the people you met earlier. The follow-up and relationship building is key. I make it a point to see every person in my database at least once a year. I know that may seem impossible if you have hundreds if not thousands of people in your database, but there are other ways to reach them. For example, you can have a large event every year, or multiple small events. You can also connect with them via social media, which is another way of keeping in touch with someone. I also love sending out handwritten cards every single week.
The key is staying top of mind with people who know me and thinking about how I can keep providing value to the people within my network.
Learn to be approachable.
If you’re one of the shy people, make an effort in a low-stakes situation, like at the grocery store or when you see someone walking a dog. (Dog people are much more accustomed to random hellos!) Make eye contact and smile to acknowledge a person’s presence.
Find opportunities for random acts of kindness.
Sometimes, if you can let someone into the grocery line ahead of you, that is an act of kindness and joy you can both share, especially if they only have a few items and you have a large order to check out. Or if you want to spread the gift of abundance, you could buy a stranger coffee or breakfast.
Take it to the next level by starting a conversation.
Once you are comfortable making eye contact and saying brief hellos to people, take it to the next level. Start casual conversations and ask people questions that let them tell you who they are — not necessarily about their job, but their interests. If you know someone at an event, make an effort to introduce two people who don’t know each other, think of what they might have in common, and help them make a new connection.
Grow your social network.
Name a few areas of interest you would like to explore. For example, if you want to get more involved with your ethnic heritage, would you like to join a casual meetup group that watches films in that language? Or do you want something more established, such as a community center that represents that group? Try three to five different activities and see what aspects you like and what fits with your values and brand. Keep trying until you find something you might like to pursue in more depth. You got to do something different to create a different outcome. And if you’re open, you’ll meet new friends and potential business connections!
Explore your existing social network.
Rediscover or deepen connections you may have forgotten about. Look at your friend list on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media. See who has skills or community connections that you’re looking for, make a fresh connection with a comment on their posts, or send a message if there is something you would like to inquire about.
Remember that whenever you’re reaching out to people to stay true to your purpose and make that genuine connection with your shared values. Look for ways to invest in your network so you can communicate your brand with purpose.
Ivan Estrada is an inspirational business leader, top-ranked real estate entrepreneur, and sought-after public speaker. He is the author of the new book, “Brand With Purpose: Find Your Passion, Stay True to Your Story, and Accelerate Your Career“.