How To Make Smart (and Rewarding) Professional Connections
The fact is that the right kind of networking isn’t about making contacts; it’s about building relationships. And it’s about being known for your expertise and your ability to help others. If you aspire to be a leader in the field or to springboard into other roles, an effective network is essential. Here are 9 steps to building a productive and rewarding professional network strategically:
- The first step is to clarify your goal. Know “why” you want a professional network. Some common reasons are to: increase visibility, share knowledge, obtain support, expand influence, strengthen working relationships, move forward career-wise, solve problems, increase efficiency at work.
- Set time aside. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, even just two 15 min time periods a week will help. But if you don’t make time, you won’t have a strong network.
- Identify the types of connections you need and with whom. It makes sense to start with people you work with and people who do what you do. Professional associations are good places to look; connect with the officers. Go beyond your own industry and consider vendors you work with and trainers you see. Who is known in the field; do you have anything in common with them? It is not the number of connections you have, but the quality that counts.
- Remember, you need to give to get. Reciprocity is essential. Reach out with praise or the offer to help—not with a request of your own. Find out what you can help with. Not only will you feel good about helping, you have made a deposit to the relationship bank.
- Create a database and take notes. This helps you know when to follow up and touch base and reminds you what you know about the person and what you last talked about. Consider using technology to manage your connections. Smart contacts managers or address books, like Rapportive, Smartr, Luper, Nextcall and Cobook can be a big help.
- Reach out. Volunteer for projects and attend events or meetings that are relevant. If you feel a little shy, attend with a colleague and arrange to split up and then come back together regularly.
- Communicate regularly with key members of your network. Initiate a conversation; ask a question, or send an article. Let them know that you think of them and respect their opinions and expertise.
- It is critical these days that you optimize your online presence. In particular, start by using LinkedIn for professional networking. Read about how to create an effective LinkedIn profile; there are loads of articles on that—and then take the time to make your online profile dynamic and professional. Learn what LinkedIn resources like groups advanced search can do for you.
- Come across as someone others will want in their network, studies show that leaders who project a balance of confidence and openness are perceived most positively. Be personable and warm and at the same time demonstrate your competence and strength.