A good professional network is valuable on a number of different levels. It can strengthen your business, as networking is one of the best marketing tactics there is. If you feel it is time to move on from your current role, a good network can provide new career development opportunities. When you need the skills and knowledge of another professional to cope with a current challenge, having personal connections with a good range of professional contacts can prove invaluable.
Building up a healthy, high-quality professional network can be challenging. Here are five tips for developing a network that is large enough, and connections that are strong enough, to add value to your career.
Attend Events and Groups
The first step in building up a professional network is actually meeting people who would fit into that network nicely. Events and business groups tend to represent some of the best opportunities to do this. Whether it’s a local business breakfast or an international industry conference, it’s a place where other professionals are going to be, and a chance to strike up initial conversations.
Use Social Media
Whether it’s dedicated business platform LinkedIn or something more general purpose such as Twitter or Facebook, social media is a great way to stay connected with professional contacts. This gives you a permanent and interactive connection, and instantly promotes your relationship with them from “that person I met once” to a full-fledged new contact.
Professional relationships are much like personal relationships in one important respect; you need to put in the work if you want to keep them strong. This means engaging with your contacts, at least from time to time. If you have a social media connection, this can be made fairly easy by commenting on business-relevant posts. Outside of this, if you have a good reason to contact them then follow through. This might mean congratulating them on a promotion or successful project, or sharing some interesting article you think will be relevant to them.
While size and variety is essentially a good thing in a professional network, the kind of engagement needed to maintain a strong relationship would become a full-time job in itself. As such, you should be somewhat selective. Don’t try to make every possible individual a part of your network, and put more effort into maintaining your connection with a contact you perceive to be more beneficial, even if it is somewhat at the expense of another.
Offer Some Value
Remember that networking is reciprocal. If you feel you can benefit from connecting with a particular professional, you need to give them a reason to feel you are equally worth connecting with. Think about what you could offer to add value to their business, their current goals, or their career. This can also tie into the matter of being selective. If you get a favour out of somebody in your network you will owe them a favour, and vice versa, but if you would not be willing or able to do them a favour then this falls apart and so does the value of having them in your network.