Networking 鈥 a word that can send shivers down the spine of even the most ambitious among us. Not only does networking often feel awkward and disingenuous, but it also seems like a second full-time job with no promise of payoff. We鈥檙e all about making networking less painful 鈥 even (especially!) networking for introverts 鈥 since it鈥檚 such a powerful tool in finding new career opportunities. In an effort to reinvigorate your motivation in these dog days of summer, we talked with LA-based millennial life coach and entrepreneur Jess Hopkins to get her take on the most important networking steps you can take today (bonus: They鈥檙e all free!) and hear her super-inspiring story of how one simple conversation can completely change your career.

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1. Dust off your LinkedIn page. 鈥淚n my opinion, LinkedIn is without a doubt the single most effect tool in building your network 鈥 and you don鈥檛 even have to leave your couch,鈥 Hopkins tells us. 鈥淟inkedIn is an amazing resource and everyone should be on it. Period.鈥 She explains that not only can you connect to strategic alliances, 鈥渉elping you identify who might already be connected to a person or organization you wish to contact,鈥 but 鈥渉eadhunters and recruiters are always searching for great candidates,鈥 and the site gives your resume 鈥24/7 visibility.鈥 Go ahead, beef up your LinkedIn profile now! We鈥檒l wait.

2. Share your vision. Similarly, Hopkins encourages everyone to share their passions, goals, and vision for the future with friends, acquaintances, and other networks: 鈥淭oo often I find that people don鈥檛 really have a clear understanding of what their friends or acquaintances actually do! It鈥檚 impossible for someone to keep you in mind for a valuable networking opportunity if they don鈥檛 understand your passion and vision for the future.鈥 This means chatting up your spin class buddy about your budding non-profit interests or letting your hair stylist know you鈥檙e available for photography sessions. Just don鈥檛 leave the conversation one-sided, Hopkins reminds.

3. No, seriously, share! If you weren鈥檛 already sold, wait until you hear Hopkins鈥 story about how a single conversation changed the course of her career. 鈥淲hen I first opened my coaching practice at 23, I continued waiting tables on the side to support myself. I had a regular lunch customer who was very kind, and over several months of small talk he learned I was building a coaching practice focused on teens (at the time). One day he brought a guest with him, who turned out to be the head of a youth department at a local synagogue that I wanted to offer my workshops to. That lunch turned into several workshops for the youth group, which eventually led to being hired for a full semester of coaching at the synagogue. In addition, one of the teens in the group wanted to work with me privately and became one of my very first clients. Not only is she still a client several years later, but I eventually started coaching her sister, who is also still a client!鈥

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4. Expand your circle. Use LinkedIn, social media, best friends, alumni groups, and industry-specific networking groups to stay connected to people who share your interests and goals. These are the people who come with an instant genuine connection, so you won鈥檛 feel weird talking about work. As Hopkins affirms, 鈥淎 personal referral can make all the difference鈥 when it comes to advancing your career, so the more people you know, the better.

5. Be direct AF. Hopkins says the biggest mistake she sees women make is 鈥渘ot making a direct, explicit ask. For instance, 鈥榃ould you be willing to make an e-intro between me and ____?鈥 Or, 鈥榃hat best practices/resources do you think would help me to ____ (improve my skillset, expand my network, develop my expertise)?'鈥 This is especially necessary when you鈥檙e asking a personal connection for advice or a meeting 鈥 the last thing you want to do is feel like you鈥檙e wasting their (and your!) time by not having a goal in mind that can lead to action. This means letting go of the 鈥淚鈥檇 love to pick your brain鈥 email for now.

6. Be patient, grasshopper. As Hopkins鈥 own story suggests, a genuine networking relationship can take time to build. Don鈥檛 get frustrated with (or give up on) a potentially beneficial relationship just because you don鈥檛 see immediate results. Hopkins suggests 鈥渒eeping the big picture in mind鈥 and thinking about 鈥渃ompanies, organizations, and communities that are in alignment with the work you do, so you can keep your eyes and ears open for possible connections.鈥 Having a running list of potential opportunities will keep you primed to make a move when the timing is right.

Do you have an awesome networking win to share? Tweet us @BritandCo to tell us how you took your career to the next level!

(Photos via Getty)