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It’s not just introverts who hate in-person networking. It’s also people who are time-pressed. My workplace is pretty good about having networking events during the day – a first-thing-in-the-morning type thing, or a networking lunch – but let’s face it, most places are not. Most networking events are after-hours, often off site at a bar (which raises its own issues of shutting out people who don’t want to be in that environment). People who have dogs who need to be let out, long commutes, loved ones to go care for, groceries to grab just simply do not have time for this.

But fear not! You can network from behind your keyboard. I’ve written about this a bit before, but today I’ll walk you through a foolproof method for connecting with someone new via email.

Step 1 – Get Clear What To Add To Your Resume

I’m not talking about your long-term career growth here. I’m talking: what do you need to have crossed off your professional to-do list in the next 3 months? What is that thing? Is it to find an internal mentor who can help you advocate for the value of your team and your work? Is it to be a speaker on a conference panel? Would you want to learn more about web design so you feel more confident when communicating back and forth with the web team? Is it to make a work friend because your team is tiny?

What is the skill, knowledge, or ability – or reference – that you want added to your resume in the next 3 months?

Step 2 – Who Can Help you Get There?

Let’s say that your current pain point is that you are new to managing and have questions but questions that you can’t ask your boss. So you’re going to need to find other folks to build a network that you can turn to for such questions.

Some of the people you could turn to: a manager you admire, someone who speaks highly of their manager, an introverted manager, managers from outside your company, and so on. Someone who even stepped back from managing to focus on their line of work because they didn’t feel it was a good fit.

Okay, now how do you find those people? Easy. Ask around. You probably already know a manager you admire – maybe you were lucky enough to work for them at some point. Write them down. Observe in meetings and break rooms – which managers set good examples? Ask your friends and family if they know anyone. If you can’t find anyone – and I really doubt that’s the case – but google it. Find blog posts, columns, or articles for new managers. Authors answer comments on posts, emails or tweets.

Step 3 – Know What To Ask

Write down your burning questions you’d like to ask. What recommendations do you have for a brand new manager? What books or websites do you read? How do you handle when employees ask for telecommuting? What would you recommend to build trust among a dysfunctional team? etc.

Pro Tip: Make sure all of your questions are not just things you can find on Google! People’s time and expertise is precious.

Step 4 – Don’t Ask Your Questions In the Email

Your email is often going to be to a total stranger – or someone much higher than you. So rather than bombard them with a ton of questions in the body of the email, just explain in a couple of sentences.

I work in Training at XYZ and I’m new to managing a team. I know your work because I have met you in the Project Management Huddles before and I am hoping that you could spare 20 minutes for a coffee or phone call or meeting to answer some questions I have about how I can manage better? Thanks!

That’s it! Yes, it can be, well, intimidating to send that email, but people love to be noticed for what they do well, and are usually more than willing to help.

Step 5 – Know the Follow Up

After the meeting, send a thank you note! Share with them the outcome or an article you came across on the topic that you think they might enjoy.

A couple weeks later, send a LinkedIn connection invitation. Follow up with a “hey, can we grab coffee again next month?” type email. Whatever it is, don’t ask during the initial call / conversation.

Nobody likes to be put on the spot, and if what you need is a long-term mentoring-type relationship – or to ask for a reference to a job on LinkedIn in a few weeks, that’s fine. Just let it evolve one step at a time 🙂