July 27, 2021 I by Lisa MacDonald

7 Tips to Build Your Network

If the very word networking sends a little shiver of disgust down your spine, you’re not alone. But no matter where you are in your career, you can benefit from doing the work to surround yourself with a tribe of professional and personal allies. Whether you’re just starting to build a network or ready to revitalize your Rolodex (look it up), we at SWIM have curated seven great ideas to make networking less painful.

1. Know and Value Yourself.

Starting with the right mindset can help reduce networking-related anxiety. Take a moment to recognize and appreciate the value you bring to your network instead of focusing on needs you hope a network will fill.

“Use ‘I am’ statements. Instead of ‘I want to be more influential,’ think and say, ‘I am influential and a key contributor,’” said Kit Culpepper, director of channel strategy and programs at Martin Guitars. “When you start thinking like this, networking becomes easier. Have a mindset that you belong and that you already have a lot to offer.”

2. Ask for Help.

Yes, you are ultimately responsible for the care and maintenance of your network, but you don’t have to do it alone.

“It can start with the people you already know,” said Liz Vergili, director of Flute Authority. “Ask them to introduce you to someone you want to know.”

Worried about asking for a favor? Don’t be.

“I try to be a connector. It’s so fun and rewarding when you can assist in opening doors and making new meaningful connections,” said Dede Heid of Heid Music. “When those folks collaborate and great things happen, there’s that extra special feeling knowing you [added] a small piece to the puzzle.”

3. Build a Network Around Shared Interests and Activities.

Skip the cocktail hour. Getting involved in an industry activity you feel a connection to is a great way to build a network without networking.

“Get involved in whatever the organization is that would allow you to meet the people you want to meet,” Vergili said. “Volunteer or sign up to help. Find the opportunities that will bring you together with other people that you want to know.”

SWIM provides a great opportunity to experience a meaningful shared activity in its annual Leadership Summit.

4. Work on Your Listening Skills.

Don’t worry about perfecting your personal elevator pitch. Start with a sense of curiosity: What could you do to help this person?

“Be a good listener,” said Julia Arza, director of operations and administration at AIMM. “People love to talk to you about what they do, so get them talking. If you have something to offer, when you focus more on what you can do, it pays you back in spades.”

5. Rip Off the Bandage.

At some point, you’ll have to take the plunge and talk to strangers. “You must step a little out of your comfort zone and initiate a simple conversation,” said Stephanie Murphy, sales manager, Dansr. “You would be surprised where a simple, ‘Hello, how’s it going’ can take you!”

6. Don’t Be Discouraged When it’s Not a Good Fit.

Not every conversation will create the connection you’re hoping for. “Put yourself out there, and if it doesn’t go the way you wanted, try something different. Be vulnerable and honest and confident and resilient,” Vergili said.

7. Be Proud of How Far You’ve Come.

As you build your network, let your successes give you motivation to keep putting yourself out there. MI

Lisa MacDonald serves as director of marketing at Yamaha Corp. of America and is a member of the SWIM Fund, which expands diversity, inclusion and support for women in the MI industry.

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