7 Essential Steps to Building a Professional Network

7 Essential Steps to Building a Professional Network

Networking.  When you think about walking into a room with strangers, how do you feel? Some folks are completely energized by the idea of meeting new people, while others are filled with angst, uncertainty, or even feelings of being fake.  That’s why many professionals put it off, until they have to!

Build a network BEFORE you need it.  Networking is about relationships, and good relationships require effort and a sincere desire to connect with others.  In order for someone to help you, they must first know, like and trust you. And that takes time!

While having a healthy network can give you access to clients, referrals, opportunities, information, and ideas.  It can also be a good resource for inspiration, encouragement, and friendship.  However, if you start the process of networking with the mindset of “what’s in it for me?” then you’re setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment.  This focus is too much on self.  Think of any healthy relationship, personal or professional, and consider for a moment how that mindset serves the relationship. If you network for the sale you may get one sale, but if you network for the connection then you have gained so much more.

Think of networking is an exchange. Formulate your nexus with relationships that are mutually beneficial.  Look for the win-wins.  Consider ways in which you can add value to those you meet.

Here are 7 steps to building a solid foundation and grow a strong circle of connections.

1.       Be prepared. Be clear on the type of people you want to meet so that you can recognize them when you do. Give some thought to some questions you can ask to get to know people in meaningful ways.  And be prepared to speak about yourself in a way that is succinct and interesting.

2.       Bring out the best of who you are. It’s important to be genuine when meeting people, along with being polite and respectful. Let them get to know you as well.

3.       Be of service to others.  Be memorable. When you meet someone, think about how you can help this person accomplish his or her goal? Who do you know that this person must meet?

4.       Making connections is a process.  You’re not going to click with everyone you meet.  And getting to know people requires more than one encounter.  Be patient in your expectations, and be consistent with your participation.

5.       Take the initiative to engage. When a group gathers, there are always multiple people who feel awkward or uncomfortable. If you wait for someone else to make the first move, you’ll be waiting a long time. Step up, smile and introduce yourself.

6.       Be curious. Get to know people not just professionally, but also personally. Be sincere when you ask people about their career, their family, what they do for fun, or who would be a good introduction for them. Look for common ground.

7.       Magic is in the follow up. If the opportunity presents itself to extend the conversation beyond the initial encounter, then set that up.  Even if a follow up meeting isn’t immediate, you can continue to build rapport by sending a thank you email, or connecting through an appropriate social media channel.

There is an important distinction between being connected because you know many people or being connected because you invest in other people and have great relationships.

Begin the process of growing your network now, when you don’t immediately need something. Look for ways you can help others, and add value when and where you can.  This way, if and when you need to leverage them, your professional allies will be eager to help.