Networking — 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’re all about making networking less painful — even (especially!) networking for introverts — since it’s 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’re all free!) and hear her super-inspiring story of how one simple conversation can completely change your career.

A woman works at her desk in an office

1. Dust off your LinkedIn page. “In my opinion, LinkedIn is without a doubt the single most effect tool in building your network — and you don’t even have to leave your couch,” Hopkins tells us. “LinkedIn is an amazing resource and everyone should be on it. Period.” She explains that not only can you connect to strategic alliances, “helping you identify who might already be connected to a person or organization you wish to contact,” but “headhunters and recruiters are always searching for great candidates,” and the site gives your resume “24/7 visibility.” Go ahead, beef up your LinkedIn profile now! We’ll 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: “Too often I find that people don’t really have a clear understanding of what their friends or acquaintances actually do! It’s impossible for someone to keep you in mind for a valuable networking opportunity if they don’t understand your passion and vision for the future.” This means chatting up your spin class buddy about your budding non-profit interests or letting your hair stylist know you’re available for photography sessions. Just don’t leave the conversation one-sided, Hopkins reminds.

3. No, seriously, share! If you weren’t already sold, wait until you hear Hopkins’ story about how a single conversation changed the course of her career. “When 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!”

A group of people sit talking together in a lounge

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’t feel weird talking about work. As Hopkins affirms, “A personal referral can make all the difference” 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 “not making a direct, explicit ask. For instance, ‘Would you be willing to make an e-intro between me and ____?’ Or, ‘What best practices/resources do you think would help me to ____ (improve my skillset, expand my network, develop my expertise)?'” This is especially necessary when you’re asking a personal connection for advice or a meeting — the last thing you want to do is feel like you’re wasting their (and your!) time by not having a goal in mind that can lead to action. This means letting go of the “I’d love to pick your brain” email for now.

6. Be patient, grasshopper. As Hopkins’ own story suggests, a genuine networking relationship can take time to build. Don’t get frustrated with (or give up on) a potentially beneficial relationship just because you don’t see immediate results. Hopkins suggests “keeping the big picture in mind” and thinking about “companies, organizations, and communities that are in alignment with the work you do, so you can keep your eyes and ears open for possible connections.” 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)