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9 Methods to Expand Your Network (That Work!)

Updated: Jun 10


An image of people shaking hands, demonstrating how to expand your network

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” And there’s some truth to this, given that most jobs are filled through networking.


But what should you do if you feel like you don’t have a network that could help you find a job you love?


In this post, we’ll give you a handful of tips on how to expand your network, even if you feel like you don’t know anyone. It might take a little bit of social courage, but if you regularly act on any of these tips, you’ll network will grow and strengthen in no time. 


Why It’s Important to Expand Your Network


A strong network is like a cheat code for faster career development and more opportunities.


80% of professionals agree that networking is important if you want to achieve career success and 61% of professionals worldwide agree that keeping in touch with contacts online can lead to job opportunities.  


Finding a job is one of many networking benefits. With a strong network, you can also:


  • Meet collaborators

  • Find a mentor

  • Learn about industry trends

  • Get career advice

  • Discover new business opportunities

  • Be in the know about upcoming events


The world is at your fingertips


Studies suggest that you are six degrees of separation from anyone else on the globe. In other words, you could pick literally any human being on the planet, and your friend’s friend’s friend’s friend could introduce you to them.


Why is this significant?


Because if you have a well-nurtured and diverse network, then anything you could possibly want for yourself probably exists within who you know (and who they know).


The 4 Networking Fundamentals


Before going into tips on how to expand your network, let’s first go over some basic ideas to help you network effectively.


Networking is a long-game


Dig your well before you’re thirsty. This is the title of an aptly named book about networking. And it’s sage advice.


Yes, your network can be a wellspring of incredible opportunities.


But if the only time you ever reach out to people is to ask for help, then you’ll come off as a parasite. And your network will wither away.


Keith Ferrazzi, author of the famous book Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. likens relationships to muscles. You build muscles over time with consistency.


Same with relationships. You can’t just meet once. Building a strong relationship requires many experiences of connection, generosity, vulnerability, and loyalty.  


And once a relationship is strong, people will be happy to help you.


Think of it this way—let’s say you’re moving and you need help carrying the sofa from the truck to your new apartment. 


It’d be no big deal to ask a good friend for help. After all, you’ve known each other for years. You get lunch every week. And you’ve done countless favors for each other.


But if you ask for help from the muscly guy you spoke to once at the gym last year, then that wouldn’t come off well. There simply isn’t enough trust and rapport built.


This is the essence of networking.


The best strategy isn’t to try to expand your network the moment you need help. It’s to build your network now. Over many years. Through developing authentic relationships. And sometime in the future, when you need support, these real relationships will be there.


Build actual relationships


Lots of people cringe at the idea of networking because they imagine a networker as a person who walks around with a fake smile, maneuvering their business card into unsuspecting hands, all while eyeing the room for their next target.


But if you want to expand your network, we have to put that perception to rest. 

A real network is made up of authentic relationships. Relationships that were built off meaningful conversations, vulnerability, and mutual support.


When you keep in touch with someone, witness their growth, and help them over the years, you both start to develop feelings of camaraderie, loyalty, and goodwill.


There’s a reason that most successful startups are created by founders who were friends for at least a year before creating the company together. 


Be helpful


All good networkers know that you must start from a place of generosity.


There are a few good reasons for this:


  1. When you come from a place of generosity, it makes the world better. And that’s always a good place to come from.

  2. Generosity builds trust and loyalty. When you share a useful article, make an introduction, or give a thoughtful gift, you have shown that you are caring and helpful. These are the qualities that make relationships strong over time.  The faster you can show generosity in a relationship, the faster trust and loyalty will build.

  3. If you scratch their back, they’ll want to scratch yours. This one is a little Machiavellian, but it’s worth knowing. There is a term in psychology called “the reciprocity principle.” This means that when you give something to someone else, they feel a strong, subconscious impulse to give you something in return. 


This is one reason why grocery stores give free samples. Because you received a bite of free cheese, you’ll feel subconsciously indebted to put an aged cheddar wheel in your shopping cart.


This applies to networking too. If you scratch someone’s back, even in a small way, they’ll feel obliged to scratch your back when they can. 


In a similar vein, if someone feels like you’ve already helped them, then if they choose to help you with a favor, they’re less likely to feel like they’ve been suckered or manipulated into doing it.


Keep your relationships warm


When a relationship is warm, it means that there’s a feeling of connection. You’re on each other’s radar and you think well of each other.


When a relationship is warm, there is a shared, unspoken sense that you could ask them for a favor, invite them to an event, or introduce them to someone else, and it wouldn’t be weird.


But doing any of those things when a relationship is cold might come off as forced, rushed, or inorganic.


Imagine if a colleague you haven’t spoken to for years sent you a message inviting you to their webinar. It would feel out of the blue. 


But not so much if you caught up with them over Zoom a few weeks ago.


There are three main ways to keep a relationship warm:


  1. Comment on a social media post

  2. Send them a DM or email

  3. Meet up in person


Each of those actions is more intimate than the previous, and provides a longer lasting “warmth” to the connection.


You can also think of nurturing your network as tending to a garden. To keep your plants alive, you have to water them.


In the rest of the article, you’ll learn ways to expand your network (in other words, ways to create new relationships.) 


But as you’re reading, keep in mind that expanding a network is only half the battle. The other half is watering the garden.


9 Tips on How to Expand Your Network (Even If You Don’t Know Anyone)


The best way to expand your network is to set up face-to-face (or Zoom) interactions where you get to know each other. 


Keith Ferrazzi suggests that it only takes about two face-to-face interactions outside the office to turn a colleague into a friend.


Even if you feel like you don’t know anyone, you can try any of these tips to bring more quality relationships into your network.


Take a course


Enrolling in a cohort-based course or weekend training is easily one of the most effective ways to expand your network and immediately turn strangers into friends.


You will be dropped into a curated community of people who share your professional interests. 


You’ll go through an immersive and transformational experience together, which will fast-track the development stages of a friendship.


In addition to meeting awesome, like-minded individuals, there’s also the obvious benefit of gaining knowledge and skills.  


Action Step: Google the phrase “Cohort-based course for [relevant skill/industry]” and see what you find. Alternatively, you can ask for advice in a relevant subreddit.


If you are a career coach, then the top program I’d recommend is the International Association of Career Coach’s cohort-based training.


Go to an industry conference


If you work in tech, check out the Open Data Science Conference. If you’re in content marketing, go to MozCon.


Whatever your industry is, people who want to expand their professional networks will be going to these online and in-person events. And the people at these networking events are literally attending to meet you!


There will be industry leaders and hiring managers there. But don’t overlook peers or people earlier in their careers. 


Because remember, networking is a long game. Seek out like-minded people who you get along well with. Then cultivate those relationships without a specific outcome in mind.


How to network with strangers


If you feel awkward even thinking about networking with strangers at an industry event, here are two tips for starting a conversation with anyone.


  1. Approach anyone after a keynote speech and ask, “So what’d you think of that last talk?”


You automatically have a shared experience to talk about.


  1. Approach anyone at any time and say “Hi I’m ______, I don’t think we’ve met yet.”


This opener is perfect. It gives a reason to say hello (the reason being that you haven’t met yet). And It implies you’re supposed to meet. The ice is broken!


Ask friends and family for introductions


There’s a good chance that someone in your personal circle will know someone who might make for a good professional contact.


All you have to do is ask!


It’s as easy as just texting a friend of your’s something like:


“Hey Erica, quick question. Do you know any graphic designers you’d feel comfortable introducing me to? 


I’m hoping to meet a few more people in my field.


If nobody comes to mind, no worries!”


Action Step: Clarify who you want to meet (by job title, industry, etc). And then text your personal connections asking if they know anybody who matches the description.


Reach out to former coworkers


Just because you no longer work for the same company doesn’t mean you can’t remain in touch and support each other.


Former coworkers are a goldmine. These people have experienced your genius 

firsthand, and will be prime candidates to introduce you to potential opportunities down the road.


Action Step: Think of a former coworker or manager who you appreciated. Then do one of the following:


  • Comment on one of their social media posts

  • Send them an email asking how it’s going

  • Invite them to catch up over coffee


Use Lunchclub


Lunchclub.com is kind of like the networking version of Tinder. It’s a way to expand your network without knowing anyone.


It’s also a great resource because everyone there is actively seeking to expand their network for a specific reason, so you don’t have to beat around the bush about what you’re both looking for.


First you fill out what you’re looking for in networking—e.g., meeting interesting people, brainstorming, mentoring others, etc.


Then you write a bio and fill out your professional interests.


Lunchclub then uses an AI algorithm to pair you with someone for a 45-minute Zoom networking call.


The more you use the app, the better it gets at predicting who you’re looking for.


Action Step: Set up a Lunchclub account and try out a single networking call.


Cold reachout


Who says you need an introduction to meet someone new?


Entrepreneur, investor, and podcaster Tim Ferriss explains in his bestselling book The 4-Hour Workweek how cold emails kickstarted his career.


If you’re emailing someone high-level and super busy, here’s a template Ferriss recommends:


Dear So-and-So,


I know you're really busy and that you get a lot of emails, so this will only take sixty seconds to read.


[1-2 sentences about who you are, your credibility, and any relevant context.]


[1-2 sentences of a very specific question they can answer right away]


I totally understand if you're too busy to respond, but even a one- or two-line reply would really make my day.


All the best,

Tim


Then, after 3-4 genuine email exchanges, you can ask for a call.


If you’re not high-level yourself and you want to set up a networking call with a peer, try an email similar to this one:


Hi so-and-so,


I came across your website while researching [topic of interest]. I hope you don’t mind me reaching out!


I felt inspired by the work you’re doing, and especially [specific, genuine compliment]. Honestly, I feel there’s a lot I could learn from you.


Would you be open to meeting for a brief call?


I’d love to talk about [area of shared interest] with you.


I’m happy to meet whenever is convenient for you.


I also understand if you’re too busy or if now’s not a good time. Though if this sounds of interest, and you have space, I think we could have a great 

conversation!


Warmly,


[Your name]


Action Step: Who is someone in your industry you think it’d be really awesome to connect with?


Try sending them a cold email!


As long as you’re courteous and respectful, there’s nothing to lose.


Host a gathering


Hosting a gathering is a higher-effort activity than everything else on this list, but it’ll give you the most payoff.


Bringing people together puts you at the center of the social web, which positions you as a leader.


Your contacts will get to know each other, which strengthens your network. And someone you invite might bring along a friend, which further expands your network.


Plus, when you invite people to your events, they’ll likely invite you to any events that they host in the future.


Hosting events is also an efficient way to warm up a dozen relationships in the same evening.


Pro Tips: Here are a few tips inspired by Priya Parker’s book The Art of Gathering.


Think of a gathering you’d like to host. 


One idea is to bring together a like-minded group, listen to a podcast snippet together, and discuss the ideas.


Or maybe you feel more inspired to host a casual potluck with drinks. 


You get to create the vibe.


Then make a guest list.  You don’t need to invite all of your friends to this gathering. It’s an opportunity to be discerning and to create an intentional environment.


Maybe you’re an entrepreneur and you want to create a get-together for all the start-up founders you know.  Or perhaps you want to bring together everyone you know who strongly values environmentalism, regardless of their job title.


Who fits the vision you want to create?


Actively participate in an online community


We’re in an era of the Internet where there is an online group for any interest you can think of.


Whether it’s Discord, Facebook groups, or Mighty Networks, the internet is full of communities.


All you have to do is show up consistently, contribute, and then turn online connections into face-to-face conversations.


Action Steps: Find an online community around your industry or interest.

Then be as active a participant as you have the capacity for. Comment on posts. Ask questions. Bring life into the community.


Try this for a month. 


If any online friendships start to emerge, don’t hesitate to invite them to a Zoom call!


Ask for introductions at the end of each networking call


From all the tips we’ve covered, the main throughline is this:


To expand your network, find ways to set up calls with like-minded people.


We’ve gone over a lot of ways to find people to invite to calls. And here’s one last kicker.


Every time you are finishing a networking call, ask the other person this question:


“Do you know anyone else who is also interested in [XYZ] who you think I’d get along with?”


And bingo. Each call can set you up to have another call.


Stay Consistent


As we explored earlier, networking is like building muscle.


It takes time and consistency to pay off.


You might feel worried if you haven’t started networking yet that you are falling behind. But don’t worry! 


There is a Chinese proverb that goes: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”


You can start your networking habit right now. 


If this feels daunting, and you feel like you could use support, consider reaching out to a career coach. 


Just like a personal trainer can help you work out consistently and do the proper workouts, a career coach can hold you accountable to building your network and make sure you’re moving forward with the right strategy.


Check out the International Association of Career Coaches to find a top notch coach to take your career journey to the next level.

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