Here’s the good news: you can network your way to a new job, to being interviewed on radio or TV, to a quote in the newspaper, to teaching an art class. Yes, you can.
Here’s the bad news: there is no master list of opportunities with names, phone numbers and urls that make it easy. No one will show up at your front door with a limo and whisk you off to fame, much less fortune. To network your way along, you are going to have to do a lot of hard work for a long time. There are no shortcuts, no instant gratification.
Now that I’ve lost most of the readers. . . if you are still reading, you are the one I want to talk to. Luann Udell, a friend and gifted colleague, share an experience that I’ve written about before that demonstrates the results of networking. You work your brains out for years, volunteering, pushing a project, researching, showing up, waving your hand. When you are almost dead from exhaustion, the interview falls into place . . .and appears in the paper. It’s good. And you get a hundred grumpy calls and emails that all start, “You are so lucky. . . .”
Here are the steps to networking your way to success:
1. Start with a project you are deeply interested in and know a lot about. Yes, you start with what you know best and are deeply interested in.
2. Decide who you want to reach and what the goal is. This is an important step–if you don’t know what you want, no one else will, either. “Successful” isn’t clear enough. What is success for you? Getting the interview? Knowing a celebrity? Making a potful of money? Write down what success is for you. Once things start happening, you forget. Let’s say you want an interview on a radio, TV station or newspaper.
3. Do research. Let’s say your goal is to be interviewed on your topic. Research every radio station in your area. Community radio, internet radio, dig ‘em all up. Use Google, get on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Ask people you know. Go to the library. Ask there. Once you have a list of potential stations, look them all up to see what they say about themselves. If your expertise is Celtic instruments, you can skip over the stations that focus on politcal talk shows. Look for shows at odd times–early morning, Sundays, late at night. Find out who the disk jockey is. Listen to the show.
4. Act on your research. Phone the station and ask who the producer of the show is. Be prepared to ask for what you want in a direct way. “I have a collection of Celtic Instruments and I thought it might be interesting to Dee Jockey because she has a Celtic radio show on Sunday mornings at 5 a.m. Yesterday she played a series of songs written for the Uilleann pipes, and I’m an expert. I wonder if she would be interested in interviewing me about the resurgence in pipe popularity.” Yes, I’m using odd example—to other people, your expertise may sound odd.
4. While you are waiting for fame, talk to other people. All the time. Waiting in the grocery store, in the movie lines, at the bank and post office. Listen more than talk. Who are these people? What do they know? Listen your brains out. Ask for cards if the people interest you, even if they don’t have a job or an interview for you. Stay in touch through LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. That’s how you build your list of people to follow.
5. Write useful, interesting articles on your blog. Answer every comment. Be nice even when you don’t feel like it. At this point you are the Little Red Hen–doing all the work. That’s OK.
6. Volunteer or do a project around your area of expertise. This is a project you choose because you need to learn something or want to talk to more people. Do more listening. Sometime around now, people will ask you to do work for free. Become discerning. Don’t believe everyone who tells you about “great marketing opportunities.” Great marketing opportunities are rare. They should put you in front of your eager audience. They should produce qualified leads.
7. Around this time, you will have some good opportunities show up. A producer will return your call and set up an interview. Show up for them. Be on time, be polite, do your best work. After the interview, follow up with a nice email or note. Get the card of everyone you talk to. Have your own cards ready.
8. Make the most of your interview. Get tear sheets, a recording, a video. Promote it on your website.
9. Reach out to the program chair of groups that might be interested in your work. Speak to groups. Be interesting. Get paid. Send them to your website for more information. Post good tutorials on your website.
10. Once you have done all this, you will begin to see success. People will call you for favors, for speaking gigs, for information. Help others, keep track of the people you meet and who are in your field. Don’t give away your expertise to just anyone. Be selective. Ask to be paid for your worth. Don’t be greedy.
And that’s how it works. I wish there were a secret, but for most of us, success comes from hard work, showing up, being prepared, working our skills, learning as much as we can, being nice and listening. It’s neither simple or easy, but it works. If it doesn’t work, do more of it till it does.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and training developer in writing and soft skills. She assumes she’ll get some snarky comments to this post complaining that it didn’t offer any shortcuts or sure things. I’m pretty sure there aren’t any. © Quinn McDonald, 2009. All rights reserved.