By Tracy Evans
Like it or not networking is a part of business. It’s a skill some have and some don’t. Before I had my daughter schmoozing was easy but now that I’m a tired mother of a toddler I’ve grown lazy and just don’t feel like kissing up to people. Thanks to LinkedIn  I don’t have to anymore, at least not in person. I can network in the privacy of my home office no matter what time of day or what I look like. I’ve landed several major business contacts in my ratty old pajamas. Whoever thought of this clever networking site deserves a big bank account and an even bigger box of chocolates. LinkedIn is for business types who want to keep in touch with those they know, catch-up with others they’ve lost touch with, seek out new contacts, and more. Best of all, it’s simple, free and there for you 24/7.
Here’s how it works. It all starts with an invite to join the worldwide networking party. And what a party it is: 20 million users in 150 industries and counting. I got my first e-mail invite two years ago but ignored it. I thought, “It’s probably a fad”. Well, after several months, an unexpected pregnancy and a case of mommy-to-be paranoia, “Oh, my gosh, I’m never going to work again,” I happily joined LinkedIn. 
I created my profile (bio, resume) and then waited for invites to arrive in my e-mail box. I got a few but quickly realized that I needed to make some effort and network myself. Armed with the e-mail addresses of past and present business contacts I sent out invites. Then I took a chance and extended invites to people I wanted to know, but didn’t. Because LinkedIn  lets you see your contacts list of connections (unless they’ve chosen not to) you can meet new people that way. Each time someone accepted an invite I got a little thrill as if I just nabbed a great pair of shoes off the clearance rack. In just a few months I racked up one hundred business contacts. Talk about a shopper’s high!
Don’t worry, if you’re web leery, a loner or just plain lazy LinkedIn  can help. If you want to meet someone new just ask a mutual contact to introduce you to that person. New business acquaintances can seek you out as well as long as the two of you know someone in common. You can accept or decline introductions. And get this, the site also drops names right in your lap. Check out “People You May Know” or “Just Joined LinkedIn” to find former co-workers, people who have similar interests or alumni from your alma mater. The names may or may not be familiar to you. Now some users invite everyone on the planet to join their contact list. I think it’s best to stick to who you know or who you want to know.
Of course most of us network hoping to land the ultimate fringe benefit: a job or a better job than the one we have. LinkedIn  has an extensive job list and some of the positions are strictly for LinkedIn  members. Pull up a job ad and the site even tells you if one of your contacts can help land the job. “Jane Smith is a 3rd degree contact”. That means she is a contact of a contact of a contact of a contact of yours. Don’t ask me how the site knows this, but it does! Genius. Ask your contact to introduce you to her. She just might help get you the job.
Your connections are an endless source of help. One of my L.A. contacts just e-mailed an inside scoop to the television producers in his network: a Discovery show in Boston needed producers. Being in Miami I wasn’t interested but if I were my contact would’ve introduced me to his hiring buddy. Your contacts can also recommend you for a job well done and you can return the favor. Those recommendations can come in handy if a hiring manager is checking out your profile. Some jobs openings specifically request LinkedIn  recommendations.
I spend most of my time on the home page just checking out who’s doing what. “Network Updates” tells you who’s added a contact, joined a group, or posted a headshot. You can even post what you are doing right now “Tracy Evans is writing a piece for the fabulous site mommytrackd.com ” or “Tracy Evans is looking for work”. Update your information and within seconds everyone in your network will see what your up to and anyone just checking out your profile will too. The site also keeps track of who has looked at your profile and how many times your name has come up in searches.
Now this global networking circuit isn’t for everyone. Some in the younger crowd might prefer Facebook  or My Space . And anyone who gets addicted easily to anything should stay away. Online networking can be habit forming. LinkedIn  is also no place for anyone who plans to pester, scam or hit on his or her connections. But for someone like me LinkedIn  is ideal. Networking kept my spirits up when I was pregnant, kept me in the loop when I was at home my daughter, and keeps me motivated now that I’m back at work. Try it out, you just might like it.
Tracy Evans is a long-time television producer whose work has appeared on the Travel Channel, FOX, Court TV, Lifetime to name a few. She is currently editing a television script but wishes she were sipping a margarita out by the pool. When she isn’t producing television shows, writing for magazines, or dreaming her life away she is busy chasing 19-month-old Natalia around the house, negotiating parenting chores with her husband (okay, telling him what to do) and trying to stay cool down in steamy Miami.