I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t live in a big city. Not even close, actually. I live in a small town in Northeastern Wisconsin, and—for the most part—I love it. It’s comfortable and predictable, and there are very few things I would change.
However, there’s one big challenge I run across again and again: networking. I’m a social person who loves having a large web of connections—whether personal or professional. But, living in a town that has pretty limited resources in that regard can be tough. Even further? As a writer, it can be difficult to find worthwhile connections that work in my same industry. Spoiler alert: My tiny town isn’t necessarily a hotbed in the editorial world.
I’ve read my fair share of helpful networking content in attempts to make the most of the few opportunities I have available to me. However, most of the advice I find is geared toward people who have a booming metropolis jam-packed with successful professionals waiting right outside their apartment doors.
So, what does that mean for me? Is meeting like-minded professionals even realistic for someone who doesn’t live in a big city?
Of course it is! You just need to get a little creative, and perhaps be a little more proactive. Here are five tips that have helped me build a large, beneficial network—even though I call a small town home.
1. Challenge Your Perceptions
When you hear the word “networking,” it likely immediately inspires visions of cheap wine, free appetizers, and incredibly awkward introductions. But, that's not the whole picture.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this interactions needs to be this formal, rigid, “Look at me! I’m networking right now!” type of scenario. At its core, it’s really just a conversation. So, you don’t require a traditional event (or a large city) in order to make that happen.
2. Strike Up Conversations Everywhere
Honestly, it’s been years since I’ve attended an actual networking function. Instead, I’ve found it beneficial to strike up conversations with people wherever I am. It sounds cliché, but it's true—you never know who you’ll meet. Even if you don't live in an area with a lot of hustle and bustle, you're still bound to encounter somebody new when you're out and about.
The best part of this tactic? I’ve discovered that these casual interactions are usually a lot more genuine and comfortable when there isn’t any sort of expectation attached to them—which often happens at traditional networking events.
I once landed a new freelance client simply by talking with the woman in the chair next to me at the hair salon. So, take that as your proof that those innocent and friendly chats with strangers can lead to great things for your career—even if there are no nametags or appetizer tables involved.
3. Use Social Media to Your Advantage
You knew social media was going to appear on the list somewhere, right? And, now you’re probably waiting for me to start lecturing you about polishing up your LinkedIn profile. That’s true—you should do that. LinkedIn can be a great networking benefit to you, particularly if you live in a more isolated area.
However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one other social network that’s been a huge help to me: Twitter. This surprises quite a few people (particularly my parents, who still pronounce it as “Tweeter”). But, those 140 characters have connected me with tons of admirable and influential people all over the world that I never would’ve had the chance to chat with in “real life.”
What’s my secret weapon for leveraging the platform? It's simple: I tweet directly to individuals I want to get connected with. I’ll pass along a quick compliment or tag the person when sharing an article that he or she wrote. Most of the time, he or she will follow my account or even reply back to my tweet, providing me with the perfect opportunity to strike up a more in-depth conversation that we typically continue via email or LinkedIn. I’m telling you—it works! And, it's something you can pull off yourself, regardless of where you live.
4. Be Active in Your Community
Not only do I live in a small town, but I also work from home. It can all be a pretty isolating—particularly if I don’t have any phone calls or meetings that day. I often resort to having full-blown conversations with my dog. So, needless to say, every once and awhile I crave a little human interaction.
Being involved in my community has been an effective way to both meet new people and save myself from total insanity. I’ve joined a few professional organizations that allow me to connect with others who share my same career interests. I volunteer at a couple of different annual community events. I even joined a gym just to have an excuse to get out of the house.
Although they aren't all strictly work-related, these activities have helped me build relationships with tons of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Plus, they put an end to my cabin fever.
5. Say “Yes” to New Opportunities
Opportunity doesn’t have to be limited by your location. That’s my golden rule. With technology as advanced and prevalent as it is, your chances to try new things aren't at all restricted by your physical address.
As a matter of fact, I recently just did my very first podcast interview—with an entrepreneur who’s located all the way in London. He had seen some of my published work and reached out to me via email, which is even further proof that your location doesn't need to be a hindrance when it comes to making new connections.
I had never participated in a podcast before, so I was understandably a little nervous about it. But, I knew it was an awesome opportunity to connect with a new audience and even foster a beneficial relationship with the professional I was interviewing with.
Remember, putting yourself out there and trying new things—even if they’ve got you shaking in your boots—can really expand your reach and get you in front of a whole new group of people. It's a step I recommend taking, whether you live somewhere with a population of 200 or 20 million.
Let’s face it—most people find networking to be a challenge. But, when you live in a smaller town where resources and events are limited? It’s not only challenging—it can feel downright impossible.
Don’t get discouraged! Believe me, it’s totally possible to build an awesome network, despite where you live. Use these four tips, and you’re sure to create a web of contacts that’ll rival any professional in a big city.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. In addition to writing for The Muse, she's also the Career Editor for The Everygirl, a columnist for Inc., and a contributor all over the web. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her rescued terrier mutt or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author