5 Ways to "Network" When You Don't Like Networking

April 14, 2022

This post was written by Kathryn O'Day, Partner at Atlanta Ventures and Advisor at Atlanta Tech Village 

How Do I Network?

I often get asked about networking. What does networking look like in the startup world? How have I networked over the years? 

Spoiler alert: I am the anti-networker. I dislike networking and I’m not good at it. Every time I’ve tried to get serious and “network,” I get exhausted, bored, and feel disingenuous. Some folks love cocktail parties, networking events, or staying in touch with that friend from the conference 5 years ago. I envy these people. This is not me :) 

What I DO like is meeting and staying in touch with smart, positive, interesting people that I genuinely enjoy. I like going to events where I can catch up with people I know or the topic is something I want to learn about. I like small groups with a common thread uniting us. 

I don’t consider this “networking.” This is just “doing fun, interesting stuff with good folks.” 

So if you’re not sure what networking looks like in the startup world or you know you should network but aren’t sure where to get started, here are 5 ways to network when you don’t like networking! 

5 Ways To Network At Startups (Even If You Don’t Like Networking!)

1. Do good work and be nice.

The best networking is at your current job. What?!? That makes no sense, Kathryn. What if I want to leave my job? 

Here’s the thing: the startup world is small and things change quickly. 

Your boss/co-worker/person-in-another-dept may go to another company. If they love working with you and you’re well-respected by the team, they’ll recruit you to the new company. 

Another scenario is that the company does fantastically well. With CompanyAwesome on your resume, it’s easy to find great opportunities when the time comes. You’ve moved up quickly, you have high growth experience, and many former co-workers are now working at the next hot company so you’ll have a warm intro. 

But you have to do a good job right now for this to work!

Be great in your role. Be nice to folks. Help out on projects or team activities. Make genuine connections. These will pay dividends in the long run even if you don’t know when or how.

When you do leave, do it with respect, professionalism, and positivity. Wrap up loose ends. Be gracious and appreciative. The last impression is how people remember you. Keep it classy. End on a high note. 

2. Be authentic. 

There’s a hundred different ways to network. 

Do you love social media? You will probably thrive on LinkedIn and Twitter. 

You are passionate about community service? Amazing! Connecting with people through volunteer efforts is meaningful and inspiring.

You live for parties and meeting new people? This is the most traditional view of “networking.” Lots out there for you. 

Do you like small groups and prefer to talk about ideas over chitchat? Book clubs, coding challenges, or research discussions might be your thing. 

Maybe you love writing and online communities? Sounds like a future blogger to me! Get to know folks through comments, posts, and online discussion. 

There’s lots of ways to build relationships with people. The most energizing, authentic, and sustainable way to do it is what feels easy and natural to you. 

3. Stay in touch with people you like.

Who do you naturally stay in touch with? Who do you look forward to seeing? Who makes you laugh, lifts you up, or makes you feel as if you haven’t missed a beat even if it’s been a year? Who has been a true friend or helpful mentor? Who do you really respect and learn from every time you talk?

THESE are the folks I stay in touch with. They are people I’d genuinely like to work for or with but, ironically, I don’t stay in touch with them because of that!  

“Stay in touch” can mean many things:

  • Shoot a quick email or LinkedIn message if you hear a behind-the-back compliment to share or you meet someone who knows them
  • Send over a fun memory or joke
  • Mention them on social media
  • Text or chat to see what’s new
  • Send over a good candidate
  • Recommend them for a role or award
  • Set up a 20 min Zoom
  • Grab drinks, coffee, lunch

Staying in touch doesn’t have to be a heavy lift. Do what feels right based on how much you like them, how much time you have, and how much time they have. It should be easy and fun! 

4. Find interesting groups.

Big groups, small groups, work groups, neighborhood groups, exercise groups, book clubs – whatever is interesting to you!

Some groups I’ve enjoyed:

At any given point in my career, I’ve had bandwidth to be involved in 3-4 groups depending on my schedule and the commitment. It’s usually a mix of business, role-specific content, sports, and fun. 

I genuinely enjoy the people and content of these groups. When it’s no longer a fit, I phase it out and find something else. 

I know folks that have loved their religious/small groups, gamer communities, run clubs, coding meetups, alumni events, bocce leagues, and hundreds of other things.

Find what’s interesting to you and you’ll naturally make connections. 

5. Avoid the “shoulds.”

I’m finally wise enough to embrace my inner toddler: 

I try not to do things I don’t like doing. 

If there’s an event that I should go to but I really don’t want to, I take a hard look at it. The reality is – the most helpful networking events are ones that you enjoy. You’re excited to see or meet the type of people there. You’re interested in the content. The format feels like one that fits your personality. If you’re not excited, it will be forced, awkward, or tiring.

If you don’t want to go, examine:

  • Why do you not want to go?
  • What happens if you don’t go?
  • If you don’t go, how else could you spend that time?
  • What other events or activities would you enjoy more that might serve as an alternative?

Another “should” to watch out for:

I should do more on social media/go to conferences/talk to strangers. Look at how great this person is at it and how well it works for them! 

Always be you. It’s great to improve yourself but do it authentically. You may hate social media but be awesome at mentoring. That is a great way to network too! 

A New Way to Network

Networking doesn’t have to be hard!

Do good work, stay in touch with nice, interesting people, be yourself, and — tada—you’re a master networker.

What other networking tips do you have? What have you seen work well for networking at startups?

April 14, 2022
Hilton Thompson