Networking? Ugh. Do you immediately groan and grumble at the mention of the word ‘networking’? Are you sick of people telling you ‘You need to get on LinkedIn’?

Guess what? It ain’t gonna stop.

The reason? Because if – in 2017 – you haven’t figured out the importance of building a strong professional network, there are people who still want to see you do well professionally once emerging from your cave/from under the rock which you’ve been hiding/awakening from your decades-long coma.

The tone here is a little snarky, yes, but it’s simply because we’re talking about a pretty indisputable fact of modern business: the more people you know – and who know you – the better your chances are at succeeding. Even the self-employed NEED strong professional networks and affiliations.

So, let’s say you’re one of two groups of people if you’re still reading:
1. You’ve legitimately never even attempted professional networking in the past – be it because you recently graduated, or just because you’ve never really seen the benefit.
2. You’ve made attempts in the past, but they haven’t yielded the results you’d hoped for.

Here’s where we drop the attitude and really tackle the subject!

Professional networking is the logical extension of a simple reality of life: humans – by our very nature – are social animals

In short, we are literally hard-wired to engage in socialization and cooperative/collaborative behaviours. There is NO SUCH THING as a ‘self-made man/woman’ – all success is the result of collaboration and cooperation at various points along a business journey. If you’re a young professional starting out, you need to build a resume before you can start demanding to be taken seriously, and those with the best jobs quite frequently cite a friend/colleague referring them or informing them as to the position.

That begins with that friend/colleague being put in a situation where they were either informed of the job posting and thought ‘I know just the person!’, or speaking to a person about their background and interests and saying ‘You know what? I just heard about this great job it sounds like you’d be a great fit for!

In either of these situations, what is ESSENTIAL is that the individual knows you well enough that they can make the connection between your skill set and the posting. And this is especially important given that a 2016 LinkedIn survey found that a whopping 86% of all jobs are filled via networking!

Now, before you go crying ‘nepotism’ and decrying your lack of ‘connections’, you need to keep in mind that the number of connections you possess can be 100% influenced by you – for better or for worse.

Just like in war, you need to be approaching your networking battle from all fronts: the sea, the ground and the air. In this case, you need to be fighting the good networking fight on three fronts – the digital, the personal and the reputational.

The Digital

It’s the 21st century, and LinkedIn is not even a question anymore. If this was 2003, you MIGHT get away with saying ‘I’m just not sure if it’s worth the time’, but it’s not, and you can’t. LinkedIn Is the gold standard for digital professional networking. No longer the sole domain of people who wear Blackberry holsters, LinkedIn has grown into a phenomenally useful resource for not only job searchers, but those looking to expand their circles and reach in their industry.

IT ALL STARTS WITH BUILDING A STRONG PROFILE! How? Well, you can listen to Forbes, or you can listen to Inc., or you can even get it straight from LinkedIn, It doesn’t matter whose advice you take, the common thread is that YOU NEED TO SET YOURSELF APART.

After you’ve created a strong profile, get active in groups relevant to your industry! Initiate conversations with people, exchange ideas, and make your name/face known to others in your industry. You can do this on Facebook as well, but many prefer to keep their personal life and professional life separate.

Unless your personal branding requires you to have an open mix of personal and professional elements, it’s best to keep them separate. There are just far too many horror stories of professional consequences for personal content on social media.

The Personal

As awesome as LinkedIn can be, it will NEVER beat in-person networking. EVER. The fact is that if you plan to put yourself out there, you need to put yourself out there.

But there may be a psychological reason you shy away from in-person networking: it’s called Social Anxiety Disorder, and no, it’s not the same things as ‘social phobia’. What social anxiety entails is a discomfort with situations which involve scrutiny/judgment of performance, and an internalization of critiques. It results in enough anxiety to change social behaviors – ranging from shyness and hesitance to engage others, all the way up to avoid certain social situations.

If ever you think your shyness is interfering with your professional life, it might be worth asking yourself if you might be one of the 15 million Americans living with social anxiety.

The essence of treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder, invariably, is requiring the patient to engage in a social situation which makes them uncomfortable and will likely lead to rejection; this is to help reduce the ‘awfulized’ image of rejection the patient has built up in their head. At its core, Social Anxiety Disorder is the dysfunctional marriage between extreme shyness and a fear of rejection. A co-dependent relationship where the fear enables the shyness and the shyness further feeds the fear.

The reality of in-person networking is that there really isn’t any rejection involved in the equation whatsoever. It’s just a bunch of people with a common interest getting together to talk shop.

Thankfully, these days, professional associations are finding fun ways to facilitate these events under the guise of a separate activity altogether. It’s so you can focus on the task at hand, but conduct a conversation while having enough to keep you busy that you can hide fidgets and discomfort. They’re ultra-inclusive, and – thankfully – are becoming a lot more fun than showing up to a hotel conference center in your Sunday best for weak coffee and weaker conversations.

Find networking opportunities in your area. Go to one. Then go to another. Then another. Whether you live with social anxiety, are just shy, or neither of those apply to you, seek out opportunities to network, and network! Practice makes perfect!

The Reputational

The key to a positive networking experience is reputation. What that means is that on top of real-time interacting, you need to have a strong personal branding game so that your experience/expertise is being communicated even when you’re asleep or taking a day off. That also means then when you’re actively networking, you’re doing double duty on your personal branding. The more people know about who you are and what you do, the higher the likelihood they’ll approach you with opportunities/ideas which match your skills and strengths.

Personal branding is your social media work that goes beyond just LinkedIn. It’s your brand’s outward-facing digital portfolio and includes all online and offline efforts to let people know what you do.

If you aren’t doing it, you should be. Here’s how you can get started.

Tying it All Together

What this all boils down to is that no one person can take on their industry alone. Even the ultra-wealthy have to play nice with others if they hope to get anything accomplished. You should be networking – whether digitally, or in person – often, and you should be building your professional network. As your network grows, and as your personal branding takes effect, you’ll see your sphere of influence take shape, and more and more benefits coming your way.

While real estate is a competitive industry, the reality is that you’re really not in direct competition with your contemporaries unless you’re both vying for the same listing. In fact, as you learn names and faces, you’ll learn where everyone’s geographic farms are, and they’ll learn yours. From there, you can send referrals their way, and they can reciprocate.

Put yourself out there. Network. Make your name and face known. Build your brand, both online and offline. It’s the ONLY way to build your sphere of influence.

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