“Building a professional network isn’t just about adding a lot of names to your contact list. Rather, it’s all about the quality of your contacts”
At the same time, it’s also about planning and the right approach because building a network aimlessly and hoping a few of them would pay off almost never works in reality. But if you think building a professional network is a herculean task, think again. You don’t necessarily need to work harder. It’s about working smarter to find and connect with people who will act as your mentor, offer you some insider tips related to the industry you are working in, help you connect to important people, or find useful resources and opportunities. Networking even means helping some newbies by drawing upon your own experiences, obstacles and hardships. Wondering how to go about it? Here are some effective ways that can help:
1. Be social to reach out to people from various groups.
Be it joining your college alumni, or a local group of people having interests or profession similar to yours, be enthusiastic to take up opportunities that help you reach out to people from various walks of life or even those working in a similar industry and having something in common, because they would help you begin conversations, get acquainted and thus lay the foundation stone of your own network. You can reach out to people either physically or more easily through the online mode (think LinkedIn). Depending on where you are in your career (a job aspirant, a college graduate, a mid-level employee, or someone in a managerial position etc), you can chalk out the profile of people you would love to have in your professional network, find them, and then connect with them (it would help to find someone who knows both you and the people with whom you want to connect since having a reference always helps in your request to connect being accepted).
2. Be helpful and ready to offer some value.
If you think building a professional network means having some big shots among your contact list and bother them every now and then asking for a favor, some guidance, or even a recommendation, you are on the wrong path that would soon annoy your contacts. Instead, try to be helpful without any ulterior motive. When you help someone without expecting or asking for anything in return, they too would reciprocate in some way. And you never know who knows whom and from which corners you would get help. But more importantly, being perceived as a helpful person in your network would make you get noted by other influential members and even make your network grow stronger, which would mean you are strengthening your own position and emerging as a leader. Be ready to share useful resources, recent or relevant research, advice, feedback, expertise etc. You may even share your contacts’ work with the people in your network, provided it adds some value to a discussion or throws some light on a different aspect of a subject that’s highly debated or discussed upon. Even when you seek some advice or help from the leaders or extremely busy people in your group, you should aim to make mutually beneficial and relevant introductions to show you too have something to offer in return. In case you are just starting out and have nothing to offer, it’s still ok to be an active participant and ask for advice or guidance from the experienced professionals. Just remember to return the favor to your professional network once you too have gathered some experience in the industry.
3. Build your connections on time and nurture them.
Whether you have met someone interesting at an industry meet, a social party, a special event, or a soccer game, make sure to connect with them in a timely fashion. Pulling the trigger too soon would make you look aggressive or over enthusiastic, while waiting for 2-3 days or even a week would cause a lull and may even make that person forget meeting you. Ideally, you shouldn’t wait for more than a day to reach out and forge a connection. After all, being on time would let you carry forward something you have discussed during your first meeting, and even give the other person a clearer context of who you are and what you do, thus keeping you at the top of his/her mind. This in turn would act as a fillip to lay the foundation stones of bringing that person into your professional network. Once you have taken the first step of connecting with such people, don’t forget to stay in touch and nurture your relationships. Else, they would just be names on your contact list that don’t add any value to your professional life.
4. Be proactive and make yourself visible.
Building a professional network demands you to be proactive to create and seize opportunities. whether it’s saying yes to an invitation for attending a conference or a business event, taking the lead to organize a meeting with a select few, or even send a few emails to your contacts that you haven’t been in touch for quite some time now, you have to show a willingness to reach out, connect with people and stay in touch with them. At the same time, you have to make yourself visible at the professional front. Be it acting as a mentor to the newbies, writing a blog where you share your expertise, experience and point of view about various relevant topics of the industry, or maintaining your social media accounts with useful posts, images and tweets etc, you should make yourself visible and heard. From reaching out to a relevant audience to connecting to like-minded people and even brainstorming with a few having shared interests – all these would eventually help you get quality people in your professional network.
5. Remember to reconnect.
We’ve all had people who will contact us out of the blue after years of never touching base. When that happens, you typically don’t want to go out of your way for them because they haven’t put any effort into sustaining the relationship. After you choose the right people to network with, remember to stay in contact with them.
6. Start your own networking group.
One of the best ways to meet like-minded people is to establish your own networking group. You can use Unanth.com and EventBrite.com to create a series of events under a certain topic such as marketing, finance or accounting. By being the leader of the group, you will immediately become more connected and sought-out. People will want to meet you because you’re the creator.
Building a successful professional network isn’t just about handing out your business card to all and sundry, or adding numbers to your list of contacts. Connecting with remarkable people takes a lot of effort and time, but it would all be worth when you consider the things you can learn from their shared wisdom and experiences, not to mention the doors of opportunities they could throw open for you.