Expanding your professional network can win you new business and generate exciting new career opportunities. It’s also a fantastic way to meet contacts, discuss key issues and learn from the key thinkers that shape your industry.
Because there’s so much on this subject out there we’ve cherry-picked the most useful comments and best pieces of advice.
Chances are you already network a lot more than what you think you do. Every time you strike up a conversation with a stranger, meet a friend of a friend or stop to chat to a colleague, you’re networking. It may seem more daunting in a business environment but networking is nothing more than getting to know someone.
Professional networking can be an uncomfortable at first. If you find talking to strangers hard then start slowly, by chatting to people in non-threatening environments - such as the post office or your local supermarket. It might sound silly, but the more you do it, the more confident you’ll become. Before you know it you’ll be chatting to everyone (including new professional contacts!).
Whenever you’re in a networking situation remember to ask yourself, what are my goals? Knowing what you’re looking for and the type of people you want to develop business relationships with will allow you to make better use of your time and make meaningful networks.
When you start networking it’s easy to spend too much time with one person, especially if you’ve established a good rapport with them. But remember, the more people you speak to the more opportunity you have to build your network and meet valuable contacts.
Businesses do business with people. Your personal brand statement is about you and what you can offer them. Taking time to prepare this in advance, highlighting your strengths, skills, accomplishments and passions will help you articulate it to others. Everyone has their own personal brand. It’s what makes you you, and more importantly it’s what makes you different from everyone else.
Internal networking is crucial to building mutually beneficial relationships that can help to streamline work processes and improve productivity, but also to identify key opportunities. Try to let people within your organisation know what you do, and more importantly what you can do for them. A little bit of subtle self-promotion never hurt anyone if you can make yourself a powerful (and useful) resource within your own organisation.
Everyone’s favourite subject is themselves and people love it when you take a genuine interest in what they have to say. Listening to someone will enable you to get to know them better and understand their challenges.
Even the most effective networkers can occasionally be overcome by nerves which can impact your communication, creativity, and your ability to read other people. If this happens take a moment to calm down, practice some breathing exercises and recover.
People like to do business with people they trust. If you offer to do something for someone while networking, make sure you follow it up quickly and efficiently and turn your words into actions.
Once you’ve built your professional network it’s important to dedicate time to maintaining it. After all, like any relationship in your life, if you don’t actively make any effort, it will never develop. Stay in touch by calling your contacts from time-to-time, send them an email or forward them content that you think is of interest to them. If you get on really well you could even ask to meet up and share ideas.
It’s easier than ever to stay in touch now with the use of social media and professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. You can see our guidelines on making the most out of LinkedIn here.