For the most part, I’m a card-carrying introvert. Big conferences and events exhaust me; I’d rather have a glass of wine with my husband or a few close friends than meet new people in a crowded bar. I’m truly of the mindset that staying in is the new going out.
And for the most part, that works. I have close friends I see often and a strong network I maintain via introvert-friendly activities: one-on-one drinks meetings, intimate dinners with close contacts, swapping advice and connections over email.
But there are also times that it doesn’t.
In the last decade or so, I’ve moved to four new cities and changed careers twice. In short, a few times over I’ve found myself needing to build a professional network (and friend group) from scratch, and quickly.
Which doesn’t really happen when I’m at home, sitting on my couch.
So, during these transitions, I up my networking game. I reach out to my current connections asking for introductions in my new industry or city. I send cold emails to people who I’d like to meet. I browse meetups and conferences and events.
But the single most effective thing I do to build my network is this: I say “yes” to everything.
OK, not to anything illegal, or to anything I’d regret seeing posted on social media. But for a certain period of time (typically one to two months), I make a point to say “yes” to every invitation, every event, and every networking request that comes my way.
If I hear about a conference that seems only mildly related to what I do, yes. If someone asks me to lunch, yes. If I’m invited to an alumni event 10 miles a way—I’d never normally commute that far on a weeknight, but yes! From early morning coffee meetings to outdoor Frisbee games, I’m truly game for anything and everything.
To tell you the truth, many of these activities lead to nothing. But many of them lead to meeting people who become friends or important professional connections. Many of them lead to other invitations (which, of course, I accept)—that then lead to friends or important professional connections.
And it keeps going.
In fact, I can’t count the number of amazing relationships I’ve built and the number of opportunities that’ve come my way because I said yes to something I normally would’ve skipped—going to events far out of town, eating pizza on a Saturday night with a group of women I had never met before, watching or even playing sports.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it takes time. And yes, every time I do it, I really have to pump myself up.
But I remind myself that it’s just for a month or two, and then I can return to my old ways—but with a much stronger community in place.
So, give it a try. Whether you’re making a major career or life change, you’re looking to bolster your network, or you’re just trying to make some new friends, have a “yes” period. I have a feeling you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Tried it out? Let me know on Twitter.