We’ve talked in the past about building your personal brand and creating your own career movie trailer. What naturally comes next is often a daunting experience – building your network. This is quite often seen as a scary thing – you’re putting yourself out there, on display, and spruiking your talents and abilities publicly.
This isn’t always easy.
You have a sense of who you are, and now you need to take this and adapt it to different situations, and sell yourself and your skills to a variety of audiences. In this article, we’ll go over some practical steps to achieve this, and also how to strengthen and strategically grow your network.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others” – African Proverb
What is networking?
“Creating a group of acquaintances and associates and keeping it active through regular communication for mutual benefits.” – Business Dictionary
“The process of meeting and talking to a lot of people, especially in order to get information that can help you” – Cambridge Dictionary
Networking is about meeting people, communication and building resources you can use to advance your career, but also about helping others do the same. It’s a useful tool that not only builds you up but also others at the same time.
When you meet a new person, it helps you understand how you can add value and aid them, and at the same time, understand how they can also add value and assist you. It’s important that when you meet people, you take some time to learn something about them
Why is networking beneficial?
A strong professional network is critical to your career. It not only builds relationships but gives you access to resources and ultimately helps carve your path to career success.
Through networking, you’re able to develop and continuously improve your own career, by staying on top of industry trends and the job market. You can meet potential mentors, partners, and clients, and really define your own skills.
This often leads to you being seen as a leader in your field, making your career development take off – as you have access to the resources and ideas that people want.
Adapting to your audience
There are opportunities to network everywhere. It’s not just at business meetings or seminars – you can foster a great network at the gym, a chance encounter at the airport, or even volunteering for an organization. The critical element here is adapting to your surroundings.
You can practice your elevator pitch anywhere. The key is to make sure that you “keep it real” to the surroundings. You wouldn’t go into a business meeting and greet them the same way as you greet your gym buddies, would you? Adapt to the surroundings, keep your connections warm and genuine, and keep your purpose in mind.
Networking for strategic purpose
Effective leaders learn to employ networks for a strategic purpose.
It’s not about joining every professional organization out there and collecting a stack of business cards. Instead, it’s about planting seeds for strong, strategic relationships and nurturing these into a beneficial, mutual environment.
Here are our top tips on how to build a strong network:
1. Set goals
When you network, you don’t always know what you’re going to get out of the encounter, but it’s important to set a goal for each interaction. Will you make a new contact? Are you bringing back new industry news? It’s all about what you can take away that can make your position stronger.
2. Follow up
Another key point for networking is to follow up on each interaction. It doesn’t have to be a full sales pitch just yet, but something as simple as an email or a call that says that you enjoyed the interaction and perhaps even a LinkedIn connection request. Later when you have a resource to share or a proposal you can send the longer message.
3. Pay it forward
Networking is also about paying it forward. Look for opportunities to work magic in your own network, and build on those existing relationships. You’ll learn more about your network this way, and develop stronger, reliable bonds. The key is to invest time in your established network and in time, this will come back to you as stronger partnerships and valuable resources.
4. Trade and share resources
Use your networks to trade and share resources, ideas and strategies. It’s not about giving away your trade secrets, but rather helping others by sharing skill sets, and also being transparent about our failures and what we’ve learned.
Your network is a thriving community between individuals with common, and not so common interests. It’s about expanding your opportunities, not only in your current career, but also your future career development and growth.
Do you want to learn more about effective networking and how to build your personal brand?
We can help you build great networking skills with our leadership development training. Why not get in touch and find out how much of a difference a great network can make to your skills.