Networking is the single most important tool in business. Making new contacts leads to potential partnerships, opportunities, new jobs, more money and could even get you laid.
For a lucky few, networking, handshaking with strangers and making new business contact is as simple as breathing or making a cup of coffee. For others, thinking of ways to network is a god damn chore. It’s painful. It induces panic. All of those feelings of dread prevent people from getting ahead in life.
Networking is uncomfortable for most because, at its core, the act feels really sleazy. The thought of making “friends” with a person strictly for business purposes. It doesn’t have to feel so scummy to start up a conversation, bring up the topic of profession and possibly scissor-finger a new contact your business card.
Here are five acceptable ways to network without feeling dirty.
Take up knitting
This is good advice for ways to network, as well as, to living a fuller life. When was the last time you learned something new? When was the last time you took a class (not work mandated) and learned a new skill or hobby? If high school was the last time any instructor other than your boss spoke to you and a group of other people, it’s time to consider taking up a hobby.
Pick something, anything, that you find interesting. Community colleges, YMCAs, libraries host a ton of classes on an assortment of topics. Take a photography class, join a book club, learn to pain portraits on grains of rice just enroll in a course of interest and sit among other clueless individuals. Every person in the class is a potential business opportunity and you’ve got an easy conversation starter to approach, “Hi, nice to meet you, so what the hell is cat’s eye?”
Work a waiting room
Does it feel like you spend your life waiting? Waiting to see a doctor, waiting for a train, waiting for your uncomplicated coffee order to pass through a hundred hands before it gets to your hands. People are constantly waiting and standing around other people waiting for the same damn reason.
Talk up the people around you the next time you’re stuck waiting for something. There’s a good chance they’re willing to talk because they’re just as bored.
Be a better parent
Every day at work you moan that you’re “not spending enough time with your kids” and the minute you’re watching the kids you think “I’m going to be so behind at work.” Why not combine the two and get involved with your kid’s life? It will stop you from being such an awful parent.
Take your son to soccer practice and stick around with the other parents. Drive your daughter to ballet and watch through the window with the other moms who watch every arabesque and dads who wished they could sneak out. Start off talking about corner kicks and the price of ballet shoes and eventually turn the conversation to line of work.
This point is absolutely crucial to the lucky people who work from home. Every once in a while, put on pants, and leave the damn house. Go get a coffee, go hang out a book store, go to the gym to work off aggression and walk among the living. Leave your home office!
If you don’t work from home, every few hours go and hang outside, especially on those incredibly nice days when no one feels like being in an office. There are plenty of other people playing hooky for a couple minutes. If you see people walking around pants-less, talk to them, they work from home and don’t get to talk to other living humans much.
Talk about lunch photos
The finally point might be slightly painful but could lead to countless networking opportunities. All of those dumb Facebook photos that roll through your news feed every day — start commenting on them. It’s a way to reconnect to old coworkers, former classmates and random social media strangers you’ve picked up along the way. Online compliments are often conversation starters.
One simple “Hey, that’s a delicious looking grilled cheese!” could lead to a “how are you? what do you do? I need that! Please take my money!” It could also lead to a great new grilled cheese recipe which might dull the pain of making random Facebook comments.