Knowing how to network doesn’t come naturally for most people. But networking – and building business relationships – is one of the most valuable things you can do for your career.
After all, your network can help you grow in your career. And often in ways you can’t even know yet.
But sometimes knowing how to network can be tricky.
Many people shy away from networking, thinking it feels fake or forced. But you can learn how to network in a way that feels natural and authentic.
And when done right, you might even enjoy it.
Read on to learn how. This is more than just a set of networking tips. This is a step-by-step guide to help you navigate networking like a pro.
After all, your network helps create career success. But you’ve got to put in the effort before you know you need it.
Building Business Relationships Helps You Grow Your Career
Networking is one of the best things you can do for your career.
You’ll gain exposure to fresh ideas, find mentorships, stay on top of the latest trends in your domain, and grow your social capital among your professional network.
If you need more motivation to do it, check out this article for a list of reasons why networking is important.
It takes intentional effort, but it’s well worth the investment. And if it doesn’t come naturally for you, you can learn how to network. Read on to learn how.
How to Network – Shift Your Mindset
Networking doesn’t have to be dreadful. It all depends on the approach you take and how you think about it.
Networking is about making connections and building relationships.
Some of those relationships will be stronger than others. But each connection has the potential to teach you something new or provide a pleasant experience.
Connecting with people can be easier if you think about it as getting to know more about them.
Networking is easier and more enjoyable when you’re genuinely curious about the person you’re meeting. Asking sincere questions to learn more about them creates a more authentic experience.
Follow these guidelines for more confident connecting and building real relationships. You’ll grow your business network and the career benefits will naturally follow.
How to Network – Step-by-Step
Follow these steps when networking and building business relationships.
1. Think about who you want to connect with.
There are different approaches you can take when coming up with a list of people to network with.
Think about different career paths you might be interested in. Consider different industries you’d like to know more about. Think about job roles that sound intriguing. It can help if you have a sincere curiosity about a topic when reaching out.
Then search LinkedIn or use friends or family to ask for names of people who fit any of those categories.
2. Reach out to connect.
One of the best ways to make an initial connection is to leverage a mutual friend or acquaintance. Or you can use LinkedIn to search for mutual connections and ask for an introduction.
When reaching out to introduce yourself, give context, so they’ll understand who you are and why you’re emailing them. Let them know what your area of interest is and ask if they’d be willing to answer a few questions. This can be done in person or over the phone.
If you have a mutual connection, such as a friend or alma mater, mention that when you connect. You can easily find this information on LinkedIn.
Finding connections at a networking event
If you’re headed to a networking event, check to see who will be there and identify who you might want to speak with. Use social media to find information about the event and see who’s talking about it online.
Some event platforms will provide information about who’s attending.
3. Be ready in advance.
Once you’ve scheduled the meeting or discussion, prepare in advance. There are several ways you can do this:
- Learn more about the person you’re meeting with. Check out their social media profiles, such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Do a Google search to read articles they’ve published.
- Make a list of questions to ask. You’ll have talking points you want to cover. Write them down so you don’t forget. You don’t have to ask all the questions, but you’ll know the most important information you want to get from the meeting.
- If you’re at a networking event, you can still have questions ready. And if you’re meeting people you hadn’t planned on meeting, or you’re taking a more casual approach, you can use any of these icebreaker questions: 35 Conversation-Starter Questions for Social and Networking Events
- Think about ways you can help. You may have resources or information that can be helpful to them. Think about giving before you ask for anything.
- If you have business cards, take them with you so you can pass them on to others. And when you meet someone and get their business card, make a note on the back to help you remember important points about who they are or what you discussed.
4. During the meeting, find ways to build rapport and connect.
Opening with brief small talk can help ease you into the conversation and help you connect. If you’ve identified any shared interests, you can mention it during your meeting. For example, if you both went to the same college or have a love for sports, a short chat about it can help break the ice.
5. Respect their time.
Whether you’re meeting with someone at a networking event, in their office, or on the phone, respect that they have other commitments.
Know what information you hope to gain from the interaction if you’re meeting with a specific goal in mind. If you’ve set a time limit on the meeting, stick to it.
And watch body language. If they seem distracted, are looking at the time, looking around the room or turning their feet or body away from you, those are cues that it’s time to wrap up the conversation.
6. Follow Up.
After the meeting, circle back to follow up with your connection. If they gave you advice and you acted on it, let them know. If you’ve learned something you think they’ll be interested in, share it with them.
If your new connection is one you want to maintain, find ways to keep the conversation going, even if it’s just touching base every few weeks or months. And if there are any ways you can add value, do so.
When you’ve asked for someone’s time and they’ve also given you information or advice, circle back to let them know how you’ve used it. It’s a wonderful way to let them know you’ve taken it to heart.
7. Maintain the connection
Now that you’ve created this contact, nurture it. Building business relationships takes effort beyond the first meeting. Stay in touch by reaching out to send an article or industry news that might be interesting.
If you know of someone they would benefit from meeting, suggest an introduction if you can.
How to Find Networking Opportunities
There are many ways to expand your network. Here are some great ways you can find networking opportunities:.
- Professional organizations. By joining professional groups, you can leverage your professional shared interests to expand your network.
- Non-profit and volunteer organizations. Working with volunteer groups can create wonderful networking situations.
- Social organizations. Finding groups of people with shared interests can be a natural and easy way to meet others.
- Professional or networking events. These are often what people think of when they think of networking. And love them or hate them, they can be good opportunities to meet others. When attending these events, find ways to make meaningful connections with people, rather than quickly “working the room” in a superficial manner. If you dread going but know you need to, make it a goal to have a conversation with just one person.
- Companies you’d like to work for. Use LinkedIn or mutual connections to connect with people who work in companies you’d possibly like to work for.
- Friends or family. Each of your friends and family members has a network. Someone within your social circle may know just the perfect person to speak with about that skill you’re exploring, or that city you’re thinking of moving to. You may also meet people you come to really like and want to have a deeper friendship with. Every networking connection doesn’t have to be for work or business.
- Past Connections. Identify previous coworkers, peers, bosses, and mentors you’d love to reconnect with.
- Your current workplace. Don’t discount the value of networking in your current workplace. Especially if you want to grow there. You may even find the perfect mentoring relationship.
How To Network: Building Business Relationships Naturally and Easily
These tips can help make building business relationships feel more natural.
1. Honor your style
It helps to know how to network in a way that fits best with your personality. Many people think they have to pretend to be outgoing, even if they’re not.
The great news is that even if you’re an introvert, you can succeed at networking. You might even enjoy it.
The key is to understand your style and work with it.
If you’re an introvert and tire easily when facing a roomful of people, focus on smaller events and one-on-one conversations.
If you get tired easily don’t force yourself to overdo it. Find ways that fit with your style. Don’t focus your networking efforts on big networking events if it drains you.
And if you must go to a networking event, commit to staying a short amount of time and meeting one person. You may find you actually enjoy it and get real value – or offer value to someone else.
But if you love walking into a crowded room, embrace it. Enjoy your time working the room and making those connections. And as an extrovert, you can even help connect others who may have a harder time doing so. They’ll appreciate it.
2. Be intentional.
If you’re reaching out to a professional connection, be intentional about the time you’re asking for.
If you’re asking to spend 15 or 30 minutes meeting with someone with the intent of networking, have a plan for how you’ll use that time. Don’t simply get on the phone or meet face-to-face with no agenda. Have several questions lined up. Some good ideas are asking about their career path, asking what challenges they’re facing, asking what future trends they see in their area of expertise.
Let them know what you’re struggling with and ask if they have any guidance or suggestions for you.
Research your contact ahead of time, too. This helps you better plan for what you hope to get from the discussion and you’ll both have a more positive experience.
3. Be curious.
Everyone has a story. People have different ideas and perspectives and experiences. Each person you meet could share something interesting with you, if you open yourself to the possibility.
Be curious about what you might learn from talking with them.
4. Use good communication skills.
When meeting with someone, whether it’s face-to-face or virtually, use great communication skills to make real connections with others. Authentic connections can both enrich your life and boost your career.
5. Provide Value.
If there’s any way you can provide value, do so.
You could so something as simple as share helpful information or make an introduction to someone who can help them in a project or goal.
There may be some way you can help with a project their working on.
6. Don’t make it transactional.
Don’t go into the discussion only thinking about what you can get out of it. And DON’T ask for a job in the first meeting. As stated above, you want to give before you ask for anything.
It is okay to ask if they know of anyone else who you might speak with.
7. Diversify your network.
A successful network includes people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Creating a diverse network exposes you to more knowledge and opportunity.
The more diverse your network is, the more complete a person you become.
– Sanya Khurana, ‘One Action‘
8. Manage your online presence.
Make sure your social channels present you in a positive manner. Networking connections are likely to check online, and questionable behavior can work against you.
Even beyond that, present yourself in a way that shows you have a balanced, purposeful life.
9. Share the love.
Much of building professional relationships is about helping others. You can add just as much value by making helpful connections for others in your network.
Super-connectors are those who not only have an extensive network, but help others connect in helpful ways. And as a super-connector, you’ll be able to help others find resources and build relationships.
Your social capital will be an asset as you expand your business network and make linkages across it.
Building Business Relationships – Keeping up with it all.
As you continue to build your professional network, you’ll need to keep up with it all. Track information about who you’ve met with, and who you want to meet.
It helps to create an action plan.
You can put this information in an excel spreadsheet or other tool that helps you track the following information:
- Who you want to meet with and who you’ve met.
- When you met.
- Notes about what you discussed or information to want to remember for any follow up.
- Follow up activities and target completion dates.
Building business relationships and networking is an investment in your career.
There are many ways to do it. Find an approach that feels natural for you.
You can start by simply meeting one person and having a meaningful conversation.
And the great thing is, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Your networking skills improve and your career will benefit in ways you can’t even imagine yet.
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