I value networking, because networking leads to infinite opportunities.
Simply think of it this way. For every person you know, there are hundreds of people you can connect with, through that one single person, and then it branches out infinitely the same way. If you have built a strong relationship when an individual, whenever you ask, he/she would certainly introduce you to his/her network. Once this cycle continues on, you will know a lot more people than you can imagine.
Moreover, these people lead to infinite opportunities. As long as you market yourself well, for example, "I'm the programming guy", you will get many work requests. Think of it from their point of view. Would you rather hire someone you never personally knew when alternatively, you could choose someone who you have met, and trust? When those two people have the equivalent skills, naturally people would pick the people they have met before.
In fact, I would not have gotten any of my freelance programming clients except for one if I did not do any networking. After I had signed up my first client, I made the effort to know him personally, and now, he refers me to other clients. This process continues and 80% of the time, new work requests come from my network referrals. Even now, I generally have more work requests offered to me than I am able to commit myself.
So now you ask, since networking is so valuable, how do I do it? Here are the answers:
- Go to meet-ups. This is the most effective method because the reason people go to meet-ups is to network! Everyone is there for the same purpose. Go to websites like meetup.com, pick the area you are interested in (for me, that will be technology), and attend as many meet-ups as you possibly can. When you get there, do not be shy. Simply walk up to someone and introduce yourself. After a while, you will get comfortable and start chatting with them for an extended period. This is especially easy because people at these groups generally have a common interest and they know a lot about their area/industry. Do not forget to bring some business cards to hand out, so people can keep in touch with you.
- Go to conferences. Attending conferences is still effective for networking because of the face-to-face interaction. Although the primary purpose of going to a conference is to listen to the speakers. Regardless, almost all conferences have breaks and lunch hours for people to network and chat with fellow attendees. Like #1, people who attend the same conference usually have the same interests. This makes it very easy to introduce yourself and start discussing things that both parties are interested. Again, remember to hand out and accept other’s business cards so you can keep in touch with those you meet.
- Reach out via Twitter. Nowadays, a lot more people are on social media, especially Twitter as a public channel. Simply tweeting someone on Twitter for networking purposes can be practical, because tweets are seen quickly. You have to be genuine and personal in those tweets. You should know the person really well and make them feel like you have invested the time getting to know them so they can take the time to connect with you. On the other hand, if you send a generic tweet to hundreds of people, they can see it on your timeline and they most certainly will not reply to you. Even worse, as has happened to me before, they will report you as spam and you risk the chance of losing your accounts.
- Reach out via emails. This is the private method of connecting with people online. The same rules in #3 still apply. You should not send template-looking emails to many people. Maybe they will not notice, but you will be embarrassed when it does happen. Take your time to look up people's online presence, including their website, blog, LinkedIn, etc., so you have a sense of their work, their interests, and their accomplishments. Since you are the one asking for connection, you should be respectful of their time. You should politely ask them for things you want, not demand them. If they do not like you, they can simply not respond and forget about you.
Start networking now! You will soon know many people and open up many more opportunities for yourself this year.