8 Points to Remember
Networking is important, regardless of how long you’ve been in your field. When starting out in a new industry, making connections can help you stand out and open future opportunities. Similarly, expanding and strengthening your network as an industry veteran can help you find talent or foster future partnerships.
You are four times more likely to secure a position through a referral than pursuing it without a connection. From the other perspective, 82% of employers say referrals are most likely to produce the best ROI. Apart from these competitive advantages, bolstering your network can lead to lasting, fulfilling relationships.
Whether you’re looking to improve your industry standings or social life, here are eight tips for strengthening your professional network.
1. Look for Networking Events and Trade Shows
Trade shows and professional networking events are one of the best places to make new connections. These spaces enable you to meet potentially hundreds of new people in your industry. Since everyone is there for similar reasons, you also already have something in common with fellow attendees.
Gaining new professional contacts at these events is also remarkably cost-effective compared to other methods. The cost of a face-to-face meeting at a trade show is $142 on average, compared to $259 for meeting someone face-to-face in their office. Meeting someone on neutral ground also eliminates any power dynamic that could hinder new relationships.
2. Take Advantage of Social Media
Networking events and trade shows may not always be an available option, but online networking is. While face-to-face meetings make the most impact, social media can help you make connections that you later meet in person. These sites are also an ideal place to learn about trade shows and other events where you can expand your network.
Event sites are the quickest way to meet people online, as they give you instant common ground and in-person meeting opportunities. LinkedIn is another valuable resource, especially for professional connections. You can interact with other people in the industry when they post, find connections through fellow alumni and more.
3. Host Your Professional Contacts
After making new connections, you need to nurture your professional relationships. One of the best ways to do so is to host them, inviting them over for dinner or other social activities. This shouldn’t be the first step you take in a professional relationship, but it can bolster an existing connection.
When hosting someone, remember that presentation goes a long way in making an impression. Seemingly small steps like decorating your front door can help your property stand out from the neighborhood and impress guests. Demonstrating care and attention to detail in your home gives the impression that you do so in your professional life, too.
4. Embrace Volunteer Opportunities
Another excellent way to make or develop professional connections is through volunteer opportunities. Volunteering for something that interests you can remove the small-talk barriers that can hinder meaningful conversation in other settings. Working with others for a common goal or interest paves the way for deeper, more substantial conversations with like-minded people.
Your company may have various committees that provide the ideal place to volunteer. Sustainability committees or social planning groups are typically cross-department settings that let you connect with others you might not otherwise interact with. Building relationships with others in different departments or careers will help you establish a stronger, more diverse network.
5. Offer Your Help to Others
Remember that professional relationships, like your friendships outside of work, shouldn’t be one-sided. You should offer your skills and expertise to others, too, and doing so first can help build a stronger network. Positioning yourself as a resource for others makes you more valuable to your contacts.
When you make new connections, let them know that you can help if they ever need someone in your field. Extending your services in this way starts your relationships on friendly, communal ground and encourages future collaboration. Others may be more willing to offer their help to you if you do the same first.
6. Look Beyond Your Industry
Industry connections are crucial, but after establishing yourself in your sector, you should also look outward. Even if you never change your career path, you’ll eventually need to work with companies and people in other industries. Expanding your network outside of your sector can establish the groundwork for this future collaboration.
Connecting with people online on sites like LinkedIn is an excellent place to start with non-industry professional networking. Alumni networks can be helpful, too, as they provide some common ground when none exists with your respective careers. Don’t shy away from trade shows in fields that interest you, even if they’re not in your industry.
7. Stay in Contact With New Contacts
One common mistake people make in professional networking is failing to develop the connections they make. Networking is not a one-time event but, like any relationship, requires ongoing communication. Instead of waiting to contact people until you need them, keep in touch, developing a real friendship, not just a transactional relationship.
Remember that professional relationships require in-person meetings to build depth, even if you met online. After talking with someone online for a while, try and meet up in person, which often leads to more meaningful connections. You won’t have the time to see everyone in person all the time, but try to meet people over coffee or a meal periodically.
8. Don’t Be Too Forward
Finally, when you’re trying to expand your network, remember that professional relationships take time to build. If you ask for a favor or professional interest upfront, it can sour the connection from the start. Being this forward can make people feel used and won’t nurture any meaningful, long-term contact.
Instead, begin casually and slowly build your relationships to the point where you can ask for professional favors. Professional networking exists in a strange space between your social and business lives and should feature aspects of both. As such, you should build your network on genuine relationships, not transactions.
Start Strengthening Your Network Today
Your professional network is one of your greatest resources for your career. Whether you’ve just started your networking journey or are looking to expand, there is always room to grow. Navigating these relationships can be challenging, but with dedication, it can be highly rewarding both socially and professionally.
These eight points will help guide you through building and sustaining a strong professional network. If you follow these steps, you can create lasting, meaningful relationships to advance your career and bolster your social life.