It’s not what you know, but who you know, right? Well, that might not be the golden rule of business success - competence and drive assuredly rank higher - but knowing the right people and fostering relationships with them can only help you in working towards that success.
Unfortunately, networking is something that people find difficult. Which, when you think about it, is a bit strange after years of making friends and grouping together contacts at school, college, work, and throughout life. Regardless, what follows are a few solid tips as to how you can grow and nurture your own professional network.
Identify the Key People in Your Network
Knowing how to form meaningful connections is important, but knowing who to form those connections with is crucial. The ‘right connections’ depend on which stage in your career you are at. When you start your career, these connections include alumni and, for better or worse, family connections. This means people that are in similar positions to yours and can alert you to potential new openings, while family connections can help steer you in the right direction (and maybe put in a good word).
After three to five years, the best people to have in your business network include former bosses and professional recruiters, while in the mid-stages of your career you should look to former colleagues, who have moved jobs, to help you advance. When you reach senior positions, though, it is better to look to those you once managed rather than your fellow managers. By staying connected with less experienced colleagues, they will be in a position to recommend you to their own bosses if senior positions become available. Remember to work every angle and every connection in your network.
Use Calendar Tools to Plan Regular Connections With New Leads
Connecting with leads is important if they are kept up to date with your achievements and progress. Coffee, lunches, evening drinks, are all are relaxed atmospheres that help you build strong bonds with any of the potential network sources named above. Calendar tools can be used to set reminders that you really need to be managing your network, don’t just wait until you’re looking for a new job.
Great apps like Scheduit, sometimes billed as Tinder for business, are built to facilitate the entire networking process, too. Currently in the beta stage, Scheduit works by matching potential networking opportunities to your current needs and alerting them to your availability to meet and converse. Apps like these, which there are others, can be used to leverage networking opportunities, even if you are in a different city.
Curate Content for Sharing
Another way to nurture your business network is to curate and distribute content among your community. Staying up to date on trends and publishing articles across social media networks means that others in your professional network will associate you with the forward motion of your industry (no bad thing). If you become the standard bearer for industry news and views, provoking discussion among more timid colleagues along the way, you set yourself apart as something of a leader, encouraging others to recommend you for new positions as they open up.
The other step to take is to create your own content and become a thought leader in your sphere. Writing a blog on a niche topic and making it your own is a surefire way to attract readers and, later, loyal followers. By turning your own blog into a central focal point for a community, you gain renown and connections along the way. Working on social media, sharing articles, and getting others published are great ways to build and strengthen your own network.
Lastly, be sure to communicate strongly all the while you are building your network. Focus on your communication strengths, don’t try and weave a story if you are a straight talker. Communicate however comes naturally to you, and this goes for other media, too. Not much of a phone call person? Make it clear you respond better to text messages, or emails, and vice versa. Always ensure that clear channels of communication are available to people who may want to connect and work with you.
Remember that, at the end of the day, building a successful network of like-minded associates is about more than just having a busy LinkedIn profile. It is a slow and steady process that requires careful nurturing and care to get the most out of the work you put in. By following these tips, you set yourself up to more thoroughly surround yourself with people who you can help and in turn, will help you.
Zvi Band is the CEO of Contactually and a finalist in EY’s 2016 Entrepreneur Of The Year. Based in Washington DC, Band also helps would-be entrepreneurs boost their chances by discussing ways to overcome traditional business hurdles. In this article, he discusses a step by step approach to building your network.