People do business with people they know, like and trust. Companies don’t make decisions, people do. Your professional network can open doors for you that otherwise could not be opened. For better or for worse, it’s not just what you know or are capable of doing, it’s who you know, that’s important for career advancement and business development. You can also learn a tremendous amount from people in your network who have experience and expertise.
How to Learn to Build Your Professional Network
After realizing the incredible importance of professional networking, I began scouring the web, Amazon, and bookstores for resources. I found there were resources on related topics, such as interpersonal communication, but not many great resources on business networking specifically.
I began asking everyone I know who has had a successful career, built a successful business, or simply knows a lot of people for their advice on how to build a professional network. After compiling the best advice I received, studying every relevant book and resource I could find, experimenting, and practicing, I learned a lot about how to effectively make new contacts and build relationships.
After years spent practicing and testing new techniques and strategies, making a lot of avoidable mistakes, and meeting and building relationships with lots awesome people, I’ve learned a lot and decided to write a book on it to share my knowledge. Here’s just 10 business networking tips you can use to grow your professional network.
1. Be Helpful
When people in your network get stronger, you get stronger. By helping people in your network get stronger, they may be in a better position to be able to help you in the future. In addition, per the law of reciprocity, people may be more motivated to return the favor.
Share your expertise and ideas. Share information. Promote your network’s work and accomplishments. Be a connector. Business transactions are always mutually beneficial. One person is buying a product or service because it will benefit them in some way, and one person is selling a product or service because they can profit. If you can connect two people you know who would benefit from knowing each other, you can help two people as well as improve the strength of your network.
2. Build a Reputation
In a professional setting, people prefer to build business relationships with people they see as being valuable. By building a reputation as someone who is talented, helpful, and valuable, people will be more motivated to meet you and stay in touch with you. Let people know what you’re accomplishing and learning through blogging, emails, and conversations.
3. Be Visible
If no one knows what you’re doing, it’s like it never happened. Maintain regular and consistent with people you want to stay in touch with. Communicate via email, blogging, social networking, and of course, in-person.
4. Meet Lots of People!
The best way to make lucky things happen, is to make a lot of things happen. Go outside. Manufacture serendipity. Ways to meet new people include conferences, events, meetup.com, Quora, asking people you know for introductions, reaching out to people directly, personal interest groups, intramural sports leagues, classes and workshops, parties, happy hours, alumni associations, Twitter, and LinkedIn groups.
5. Be Intentional
Go where the people you want to meet hang out both online and offline. Interact with people and build rapport. Share valuable content and spark interesting conversations. Also think about who else spends time with the people you want to meet and connect with them.
6. Think Long-Term
Connections open doors, but relationships close deals. Networking is not just about exchanging business cards and connecting on LinkedIn. Networking is most valuable when long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships are formed. Relationships take time to build. Be patient. Stay in touch with people you like.
7. Get Rejected!
“If you aren’t getting rejected on a daily basis, your goals aren’t ambitious enough” – Chris Dixon
When you push yourself, in any area of life, you will inevitably face setbacks. In networking, you will face a lot of rejection. People will ignore your calls and email. They will decline meeting invites, and requests for introductions. Trying and failing is much better then not trying at all. At least when you try you have a chance to succeed. Learn from your rejections and grow stronger for when it happens again.
Listening is one of the most valuable, yet commonly overlooked, skills to have in networking and in business. People love to talk about themselves and appreciate when you take a genuine interest in what they have to stay. Listening will help you to get to learn about peoples’ challenges and get to know them better, which can ultimately lead to more productive professional relationships. Ask open-ended questions, be genuinely interested, and express interest and curiosity.
You never know until you ask, and more often than you think, you will get the answer you want. Ask for introductions. Ask people you want to meet to meet with you. Ask for advice.
10. Follow Up
Build a reputation as someone who delivers on their promises and is persistent. Follow up with on people who promised to do something for you. Follow up on on emails you send that get ignored. Do what you promised to do for others.