HOW TO BUILD AND MAINTAIN A PROFESSIONAL NETWORK
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Definition and Introduction
A professional network is a group of people connected for career-based motives. Business-related connections can be formed almost anywhere, given the right set of circumstances and an awareness of appropriate communication. Within a professional network, people share information that can help companies and careers to grow. New jobs can be sourced from a professional network and solutions to business-related problems can be found.
To grow your career, you must develop a professional network. The world is too large to navigate it entirely on your own. When you create a strong network, you open yourself up to vast opportunity. Your talents and skills become available to others, as theirs do to you.
Growing a professional network takes time, practice and mindfulness. The networking basics presented in this short guide are here to help you start or increase your professional network so that you can ascend to the next level of your career.
How to Network: A Brief Tutorial
Always remember that you are working with human beings who come with their own dreams, desires, and needs. Whether networking at work or an event, the goal is to find points of mutual connection, not one-sided connection. You want to find ways to help each other, and by doing so you both grow. That is the ideal outcome of a professional network. So how to build a network? There is no one right way, but there are some fundamentals that remain true no matter the circumstance.
- Who Matters Most?
These are the 20 or so most valuable members of your network. Mentors, close co-workers, business partners and clients who have a huge impact on the success of your career belong in this category. It’s important to know who they are and to maintain these relationships as if they were your own family. Call them regularly, invite them to events if it’s appropriate – whatever lets them know that they matter to you.
- Beware of Too Many Connections
It’s not helpful to have connections just for the sake of it. Know what type of contacts you need and focus on those people. It’s always good practice to be friendly and to meet many people, but a network consists of people you spend time and energy connecting with over the long-term. If you have the right contacts, less is often more.
- Offer Help First
Sometimes network development requires a bit of generosity. What can you do to help solve another’s problem? What tools and skills do you have that can be of service to another? Offering your services when you see a need goes a long way with people. The key here is flow. Listen to the needs of the person you are talking to and if something comes up in conversation that you can help with, speak up and then follow through.
- But Don’t Leave It There
Offering help is fantastic, but you don’t want to be identified solely as the person who serves. Send follow up emails or a phone call to check in and lean the conversation in a new direction. When the opportunity arises, ask for what you want. This may come in the form of a mutual exchange of services, but if you’ve helped someone out in the past, they’ll be keener to help you in the future.
- Let Yourself Shine
Speak confidently on your skills, achievements, beliefs, and perspective. Truthful communication is valuable and pulls the truth out of others. Cracking through the façade that often appears in networking situations allows you to see and be seen more clearly – leading to authentic and meaningful connections.
- Nurture Your Connections
True connections take time to take root and grow. Once you’ve planted a seed with someone, you have to water and sun it. Stay in contact with them, let them know that you’re thinking of them and that you remember what they talked about. If they presented a problem they’re having in their career or company, keep it in mind and when you run across something that could help them reach out and let them know.
- Put Yourself Out There
You can’t make connections unless you get out in the world. Attend events, try new things, take risks and follow your intuition. You never know where you’re going to meet the people who can help you take the next step in your career.
These value-driven tips help develop your integrity as you build your professional network.
- Know Your Purpose
Why do you want a network in the first place? Get clear on your goals and write them down. External reminders keep you focused and grounded in what you want and help you notice people and circumstances that will help you achieve those goals.
- Build Trust
You know that you are a great person to connect with, but others need time to get to know you. Don’t come on too strong and let the relationship grow organically. Much the same, practice discernment when connecting with others. Stay open and curious, but don’t reveal too much too soon just because someone seems like a good person to know.
- Practice Selflessness
If your focus is on what you can do for others, you can bet that you will attract people who have the same target, meaning that they will be looking for ways that they can help you. Have faith that the good you do for others will return to you.
- Get in Front of People
Face-to-face communication is the fullest and most complete form of communication you can have in business. Phone and email are great, but they are impersonal in comparison to in-person conversation. Take someone out to lunch, grab a coffee or hit up an event. Body language, facial expression, and overall energy help all parties involved to deepen existing relationships and find new authentic connections.
- Have Respect for Those Who Came Before
Pay attention to the wisdom of the older members of your profession. Spend time with veteran professionals or retired members of your field and listen to their message. You can learn much from those who have already walked the path you are currently on.
3 Tried and True Networking Opportunities
Beyond social media, there is a multitude of ways to broaden your contacts. Here are a few practical ways of making connections.
- Attend Networking Events, Mixers, and Conferences
Get yourself out there! There are plenty of meet-ups being hosted all over the world for business professionals like yourself to mix, mingle and make connections. Attend at least one of these per month to grow your network rapidly.
- Take in Some Art
Gallery openings, store openings, record launch parties, theatre galas or opening nights…there are plenty of arts-and-culture-based opportunities to meet interesting and helpful people. The art itself also provides an immediate point of connection that can help you smoothly converse with someone you otherwise wouldn’t have a clear way of engaging with.
- Join an Organization or Association
Find a cause you care about and get involved. You know you’ll meet people who are like-minded, and the bonds you form will be particularly strong as you will be in service of something greater than yourself.
Networking Tips for Introverts
For Introverts, connecting with others can pose a special challenge, especially at a big event or gathering. Apply these tips to elevate yourself in social settings and become a master of the networking game.
If you find that reaching out to others creates anxiety, prepare in advance. Know where you’re going, what you’re looking to gain from the event and practice a few things to lead with. You don’t have to talk to everyone but tune in to the conversations around you to gain information about others that will help you figure out which direction your energy should go.
- Find a Buddy
Take someone with you, especially if you get nervous in social settings. They can act as a sort of “home base” for when you need a break from connecting with new people. Don’t fall into the trap of speaking only to them all night but let them be an anchoring presence for you.
- Be Present
Speaking of presence, remember to breathe and be entirely where you are. It’s easy for Introverts to retreat into themselves in social settings. If you’re going to go somewhere to meet people, be all there. Center yourself beforehand and give yourself a time limit for how long you have to be there if it helps. Once you jump into the networking waters you may find that you actually end up having a blast.
- Know Yourself
If you’re not good at late night events, choose daytime outings. If you thrive in a small group, but crowds of hundreds make you shake, find a smaller networking event to attend. Make active, mindful choices about where you’re going and when based on your own rhythms, cycles, and needs. Simply attending a networking event may already be outside of your comfort zone. No need to make yourself any more uncomfortable than is needed.
4 Powerful Skills To Boost Your Networking Power
These skills will take you a lot farther than networking. Build these abilities to become a more powerful, confident version of your professional self.
A lot of people hear, but don’t listen. Tune in to the underlying meaning of the communication you’re receiving, not just the words. It feels so good to truly be listened to, and people will feel that you are connected to them because you are. Listening opens a channel of communication. Without it, it’s just two people talking to themselves.
- Asking Questions
The art of asking questions enhances every conversation. The deeper and more specific questions you ask, the more the other person will open up to you, which strengthens the connection. If someone is talking about a new product their company is about to launch, don’t just say a stock phrase like “that’s great!” Instead, ask what makes the person the most excited about the product or inquire into the nature of their role on the project. Show interest in them and it will be appreciated.
- Positive Language
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of negativity. Start watching your phrasing. If you find that you want to comment on a negative aspect of the topic, flip your statement on its head and see it from a positive perspective. As you continue to keep your language positive, the person or people you are connecting with will start to mirror that positivity back to you, resulting in a more productive, forward-thinking conversation.
- Knowing Which Bridges to Burn
Sometimes a connection just has to be severed. If someone is acting as a leech or energetic vampire in your professional network, let them go and don’t look back. Notice signs of disrespect, underappreciation or ingratitude. If you’re always helping someone out but they never return the favor, it may be time to cut them loose.
No powerful businesswoman is an island. You must make connections and then nurture the connections you create. As the saying goes, “we lift ourselves up by lifting each other up.” Put yourself out there, start meeting new people and present yourself with confidence and grace. You are a value and an asset to others. Build your network and find those who are also of value and asset to you.