Make business connections that really mater with 3 ways you can build a powerful professional network
Trite though it may sound, the adage is true: When it comes to business, “it’s not what you know, but who you know” that matters.
In today’s hyper-connected world, it is no longer enough that you keep your head down and produce exemplary work. To professionally thrive, now you must be vocal about your interests and career goals to build relationships with like-minded individuals you can turn to as a resource and who may even be in the position to help you.
Unfortunately, for most of us, the thought of forced small talk and limited drink tickets at traditional “networking” events can induce anxiety. But that’s certainly not the only way to develop good connections.
Put down that Sharpie, step away from the temporary name tag and consider these alternative ways to build powerful professional relationships:
Social Media: Perfecting the Virtual Handshake
Mingling with cohorts in your business casual best can open doors or, at very least, show you where the doors are that need to be knocked on. But with the advent of social media, it’s no longer necessary to have these interactions face-to-face.
Of course, LinkedIn is the go-to professional networking site, but Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can be equally strong ways to make business connections.
The beauty of all these platforms is that they allow you to search for people with similar professional interests by using your industry’s key terms. From there, you can easily tell who is a regular user by the cadence of their interactions with the site.
You should be targeting noticeably active, high-level networkers with at least 500 connections and well-developed profiles. These are most likely to be the decisions-makers within your line of work and therefore the most useful contacts to cultivate.
One quick word to the wise: If you’re going to use your social media accounts to build your professional network, be mindful of the content you’re sharing. Your best bet is to create entirely separate profiles so that your potential connect at an industry-leading organization isn’t privy to your embracing #ThrowbackThursday pics.
Establishing Expertise: Get Your Name Out There
Whether you are a social media master, a blogging machine or a public speaking pro, as an entrepreneur, you know that sharing your professional thoughts with others allows you to build an instant connection to people who are interested in the same topic. Moving forward, they’ll associate you with their knowledge base on the subject.
The key to really getting your name out there in this way means leveraging every distribution channel at your disposal. For thought leaderships pieces that are published online, that could include using not only owned social media to promote but also considering paid media like content recommendation engines that can easily put your work in front of totally new audiences.
For public speaking, you should seek out opportunities rather than wait for them to fall in your lap. That means keeping an eye on the calendars of local service clubs, universities and events specific to your industry to ensure you are considered for pertinent speakerships.
Beyond that, you should also make sure that people in your existing network know what you’re capable of writing or speaking about passionately, as they may someday have an opportunity to utilize your expertise or reference it to someone else who needs it.
Existing Relationships: Keep Your Garden Growing
Once you have started to cultivate a professional network, it is crucial that you regularly revisit these connections. Rather than hoping someone will notice your clever LinkedIn update or decide to click a link to your professional blog that you tweeted about, you should be carving out time on a regular basis to personally reach out, sharing your big ideas and contributions.
This will ensure it never appears you are only contacting people from your network when you need or want something. It will also allow you to provide genuine value to these professionals so that it’s not awkward when you do eventually ask someone for a favor or recommendation in a few years.
The truth is that networking in many ways can be about setting yourself up for later success by knowing the right people to advance your career. But that doesn’t mean you can’t allow these professional relationships to have meaning in the meantime.
Once you’ve established a new contact, make mental notes about what you’ve discussed so that you may reference it later, adding depth to future conversations. This will allow you to skip the cattle call feeling of industry networking events and spend that time on making connections that really matter.
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