Building Your Network
One of the advantages of working in an online environment is that your professional reach is much wider than ever before.
Back in the day, 95% of your teacher network could be found drinking instant coffee down the hall in the Staff Room.
Happily, those days are long gone.
When you teach online, your professional network is not restricted to the colleagues you bump into in the corridor.
(And if you have a home-based office, you don’t even have a corridor to work with!)
Now, there’s a whole world of potential contacts out there just waiting to start mutually beneficial professional relationships. All you have to do is find them.
In this lesson, we’ll talk about just how to do that.
There are 4 main avenues for actively building your own network:
- Conferences and Workshops
- Colleagues, past and present
- Memberships and Industry Organizations
Over the years, when you’ve had a spare 5 spare minutes, you may have idly wondered whether any of these network-building activities are worth your while.
But when you’re overwhelmed with a large teaching load (and feeling generally unappreciated anyway), it’s hard to know where to start.
In the end, it’s too hard, and so you just keep working, right?
Let’s pull these four network-building tools out into the light, and take a good look at them.
Once you can see them clearly, you can make an informed choice about which ones are viable for you to help increase your visibility.
1. Conferences and Workshops
Conferences and workshops are a great opportunity for you to get some face time with other experts in your field, and to connect with them in person.
However, not all conferences are created equal.
You need to weigh up which ones are worth your time (and money!), and think about what you’ll get out of them.
When you hear about a potential conference, take a look at the list of papers and presenters: are there people going you’d love to meet, or unmissable papers you’d regret not hearing?
Or are you simply signing up for the conference because you feel you should – even though the paper topics are not that relevant to you?
Be honest and objective about how much value you’ll get out of this experience.
If you decide you will go, here’s how to make the most of attending a conference.
You’d think that’d be a given, right?
But I’m amazed at how many people throw together a first draft of a conference paper the day before they present it. I’ve seen people actually writing their presentation on the plane en route to the event.
That seems like a complete waste of time to me.
How are you going to establish yourself as a credible expert with first draft material and a half-developed idea?
And if the quality of the paper is compromised further by the screaming baby two seats back and regular bouts of air turbulence, it’s unlikely that the work you present will be top-notch.
It’s much smarter to invest the required time and effort to ensure your reputation is enhanced, not damaged.
- Offer constructive discussion
Sometimes the Q & A that goes on after a paper can be more valuable than the paper itself.
If you’re paying close attention to the presentation, you may be able to start a constructive discussion that leads to conversations and connections with other experts in the field.
- Go to the social functions
If there’s a conference dinner or welcome drinks function, don’t avoid them.
I know they can be tedious and awkward, but what if you meet someone who becomes a really valuable contact or colleague?
All you need to do is show up, be friendly, and take a genuine interest in other people for an hour or so.
Do that, and you maximize your chances of making valuable connections.
And remember, a conference cocktail party is not a jail term.
If the event is truly going nowhere, excuse yourself politely and escape.
But at least give the social side of conferences a chance.
- Follow up after the conference
If you did meet some interesting people at the conference, don’t let that initial contact fade into a vague memory.
When you get home, send those people a “nice to meet you” email, and invite them to connect with you on social media.
Make them part of your network while the contact is still fresh.
2. Colleagues, Past and Present
You can fix that, by seeing yourself not as an island, but as part of a geographically dispersed team.
Working remotely is a great opportunity to establish a virtual network of long-distance professional relationships. You do have a network of co-workers: you just can’t physically see them.
Try scheduling regular email check-ins, or informal meetings via Skype with your current colleagues and former workmates.
You can trade battle stories, offer mutual support, and keep each other informed about potential opportunities.
This is no-pressure networking at its best.
3. Memberships and Industry Organizations
When you join your local or national industry organization, you become part of an established network of professionals who are active in your field.
In the process, you become accepted into a kind of private club, where other members see you as a fellow “insider”.
You’ll receive regular updates from the industry, and potential access to un-advertized opportunities offered to insiders only.
And prestigious memberships add credibility to your CV and online portfolio, and help to present you as an established professional yourself.
Students can be a surprisingly valuable addition to your professional network.
For a start, their positive feedback effectively creates testimonials for the quality of your work.
That’s free publicity.
Word of mouth is a great way to get the word out about your glowing reputation.
(As you know, when that happens online, it’s called going viral – a very good thing for your brand.)
And secondly, students come to your course with their own network.
They already have relationships with peers, mentors and potential influencers.
Many of the connections in their networks may also be interested in what you do.
So adult learners are certainly worth considering as potential additions to your network.
Current and former students have first-hand knowledge of your skills.
They see you as a trusted professional that people in their networks should trust, too.
Start gathering your own testimonials from happy “customers” – your students.
Here’s a free guide to collecting glowing student feedback.
Some highlights from these comments could come in very handy at your next performance review.
This is solid evidence you’re doing a great job – straight from your key stakeholders, the learners themselves.
Now you can see these standard networking tools clearly.
In this lesson, we’ve taken a good, hard look at four common but often neglected networking tools.
Now you know how to use them effectively, you can make an informed choice about how you’ll apply them to reach your goal of increased visibility.
Let’s move on to look at the ultimate networking tool, social media: