In the professional world, you cannot escape networking. It is the foundation of many business relationships and a useful way for professionals to advance their careers and businesses. Without networking, you are unlikely to succeed as effectively and quickly as you could have by tapping your professional networks and using the resources and tools they would have given you access to.
Networking in today’s world is a crucial stepping stone on the journey to success. If you are looking to step up your networking skills and build a strong network around your business, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we will discuss the various ways in which you can develop stronger relationships with your professional contacts. We will look at the different tools and skills you can utilise to network better and take your professional journey to the next level!
What is networking? What are the benefits of networking?
The term ‘professional networking’ can sound pretty pompous at first. It may give the impression of being a tedious process that takes a lot of time and effort and may not be as productive or worthwhile in its outcome. Nothing could be further from the truth!
The fact is that networking is a process that can help you connect with people who can help your career or turn into lucrative clients for your business. Networking is something we all do, whether we are aware of it or not. Every time we meet people, share our thoughts with them and listen to what they have to say, we are essentially networking. Think of your family, friends, fellow students, or colleagues: they are all part of your personal or private network. We rely on them for kinship, understanding, or support in one way or another.
Similarly, our professional network consists of people we meet through work or work-related events such as seminars, webinars, training, conferences, and so on. We talk, listen, exchange ideas, and help each other advance our respective careers or businesses.
And so, networking is the way through which we make and develop these connections. It involves everything from meeting people at formal events to interacting with them during informal gatherings and activities. For example, meeting new people at a Christmas party would also count as networking.
Effective networking can have several benefits. Networking can:
- Help progress your career
- Open doors for you, if you are looking for a new job
- Help grow your business by connecting you to the right potential customers or patrons who want to support your work
- Alert you to new ideas by talking to interesting people who have varied experiences to share
8 ways to build a strong professional network
Focus on the right people
It’s not the number of contacts in your network that is important but rather the quality of those connections. Always choose quality over quantity when it comes to networking. You should ideally invest most of your networking time developing promising professional relationships, not just reaching out to the highest number of prospects possible.
Try focusing your networking efforts on:
- People experienced in their area of expertise who can give you trustworthy advice.
- Those who understand the current position you are in and want to support you on your professional journey.
- Decision-makers in their own capacity or people who can open new doors for you.
Avoid time-wasters and those who can be charming and over-promise direct support or access to opportunities but fail to deliver at the end of the day.
Convey a clear idea of your brand
The aim of networking is not to pile up business cards but to develop meaningful relationships with people who can contribute to your business and your professional goals. This means having a clear idea of who you are and what your business is all about. What you communicate with your personal brand is what will attract others to your journey.
So before you start sending out LinkedIn invites, have a conversation with yourself about how you want to convey your past achievements and your future goals to people in your network.
Try answering the following questions before deciding on a networking strategy:
- What have been your most significant achievements?
- What was the journey that led you to where you are now?
- How have your past experiences formed your character?
- What are your professional goals?
- What are your priorities?
- What are your strengths?
- What can you contribute to make the world we all share a better place for all of us?
Answer those questions for yourself so that when an opportunity arises, you are ready to impress people with the clarity and focus of your answers.
When networking opportunities present themselves, you’ll likely have just a few moments to convince people you are worth their while.
Below are some tips on how to leave a positive first impression.
Tip #1: Stay on top of your emotions. Approaching new people can be emotionally demanding, especially if you are naturally shy. You can practice small talk or your elevator pitch with your friends and family. If all else fails, stand in front of a mirror and try out a few mock conversations. And don’t forget, in person and on video calls alike, a genuine smile always goes a long way.
Tip #2: Be kind. Networking is not a transaction or a mechanical interaction. It’s the coming together of two people, neither of whom should be left feeling unwanted. Be true to yourself and show courtesy and kindness. The best networking relationships are built through genuine conversations and shared interests.
Tip #3: Show appreciation for the other person’s time and effort. During networking, everyone’s time is valuable, and if someone decides to make an effort to talk to you, give you advice, or introduce you to their network, thank them. You can follow this up with a personalised gesture like a handwritten note or a simple email thanking them for their time. Do something for them you think they will appreciate or directly ask them if there is anything you can do to return the favour.
Give and receive
Don’t wait until someone does something for you to return the favour. Take the initiative and help them with something first. Networking is all about finding opportunities to help each other. If you find such an opportunity to create a new opening or secure a good deal for a person in your network, they will remember you and your effort. This way, they will be more likely to help you out in future.
Remember to keep in touch
Oftentimes, we meet someone who we get along with and have several shared interests with but we lose touch over time. If you feel that maintaining a relationship with such a person will be mutually beneficial to you both, then you must make an effort to stay connected. You should appreciate those who routinely message or call or try to meet up to chat.
Think about it, would you be more likely to help someone who reaches out to you out of the blue or someone who touches base with you often and always makes sure to ask about your work? The latter will always receive more favours and help simply because of the time and effort they put into staying in touch.
Quick tip: Try to get in touch with your network over the holidays. Wish them and see if anyone will be up for a quick catch-up.
Use social networks
Social media is an indispensable tool for professional networking. It is only when you put yourself out there, will others in the same space as you know that you even exist. Social media tools such as LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Bumble Bizz, and Meet Up are excellent in their own ways to get in front of the right audience.
While apps like LinkedIn and Twitter allow you to create digital content and post it as a way to build connections and meet new people in the industry, Bumble Bizz and Meet Up are location based apps that let you meet and interact with like-minded people in your neighbourhood.
Join alumni groups
Use your school and college alumni groups to your advantage. Most of them organise meet-ups routinely and put together professional and social events several times a year. These can be excellent opportunities for you to find people from the same industry or field. Reconnecting with old classmates can be a great way to network as they would most likely be the same age and in the same phase in their professional lives.
Ask for introductions
There is no shame in asking someone in your network to introduce you to someone who might be helpful to your career. In fact, most networking is built on asking people to put you in touch with someone who might be able to help. What’s more, people are usually more than happy to facilitate such introductions. Since networking is a two-way street, people will know that you will introduce them to someone in your network, too, if they ever ask.
Network with Learnium
Networking is something we all do every time we meet new people, make new friends, and share stories or other information with them. Professional networking takes this process and turns it into a tool that can help you progress in your career, find new job opportunities, or support your business.
When done with enthusiasm, kindness, and respect, networking can lead to countless benefits. Meeting like-minded people who support and encourage your professional endeavours is a huge advantage that can potentially take your business to the next level. Imagine, the only thing standing in the way of your growth could be your lack of access to the right kind of people! Networking can put you face-to-face with people who can guide and advise you toward progress.
If you’re looking to create your own network of like minded people, Learnium can help! Learnium Communities is a private social network that allows you to connect with colleagues, professionals, and other important people in your industry. It is a secure network where you control who joins and is allowed to participate in community events like webinars, talks, and conferences, and can share videos, images, and chat with other members. With Learnium Communities, you can create a space where you and people in your network can collaborate professionally as well as engage in fun banter!
So, brush up on your most popular party stories, put on a nice tie, and get ready to charm professionals in and outside your circle on Learnium Communities, so you can finally advance and enrich your career!