You can provide support and knowledge to others, increase your skills, make new friends, grow your business, advance your career, gain trusted contacts, and impact your community all by investing in networking.
Ivan Misner said, “Networking is more about farming than it is about hunting.” This is a great analogy because you’ll want to prep the soil, plant the seeds, and tend to your plants all before you can collect the harvest.
When practiced the right way networking results in valuable connections for life. Would you rather call businesses from a list of random search engine results, or contact a trusted professional from your network of friends and colleagues? The power of a network extends far beyond quality referrals to building long-term relationships and establishing a reputation for yourself.
Opportunities are Endless
For years, experts have declared that 50% or more of job openings go unposted. Although the exact percentage is hard to calculate, NPR, WSJ, and Forbes agree the majority of jobs aren’t advertised. These open positions are being filled by qualified candidates who are referred by a trusted contact. People like to do business with others they know, like and trust, and the same is true for all of us. Networking establishes the foundation for trusting relationships and meaningful friendships. These lasting connections provide a network of high-quality referrals and can even increase an organization’s sales.
Networking is often associated with increasing sales, or finding a new job, but what about for individuals who plan to stay with their current organization or aren’t in sales? In a study conducted by University of Chicago sociologist Ronald Burt, people who made efforts to improve their networks were 42%-74% more likely to be promoted than those who didn’t. Networking increases others’ perceptions of you and affects your personal brand. At the very least, having a strong network will provide a safety net filled with future opportunities for you in times of transition.
Networking is not only good for business, it benefits life outside the office too! Chances are the people around you who are participating in networking are other high-performing individuals. Whether the professionals are in your industry or other industries their expertise and ideas may be useful advice. Sometimes we need feedback from individuals outside of our organization or knowledge in a different subject area, a working network is the ideal place to turn.
An important piece of the networking puzzle, and what many people forget to do, is to contribute value to their network. Think of networking like a “sharing process.” Give out valuable support and information to those in your network while expecting nothing in return. When you are authentic and provide value to people, that’s how trust can be built. Supporting your network increases self-worth and allows you to practice skills you may not use every day. In addition to your work, helping others provides a sense of purpose. One easy way to show support is to connect two of your contacts with each other.
Just like a workout, results from networking won’t happen overnight. Building lasting relationships takes consistency. You are building a reputation with these organizations, and to do so takes time. Think of networking like an investment and be in it for the long-run. You may even find these professional contacts become mentors or great personal friends.
The opportunities to network are all around you. Even if you can’t join organizations or go to specific networking events, you are probably still interacting with other professionals frequently. While you wait for your daughter to finish dance class make conversation with the parent next to you. If you are traveling for business, try to talk to others on the plane and throughout your commute. If you normally bury your head in the paper while you drink coffee at the local café, put the paper down and strike up conversation. Spend time in the evenings catching up with old friends or coworkers. Social media is not the best way to network, but it can be valuable for catching up or making introductions.
The best way to establish a reputation and personal brand for yourself is to be known, which involves getting out there and getting to know people.
Build A Strong Network in 5 Steps
Find Groups & Organizations
- Professional organizations within your field and networking groups are a good place to start. Some examples include: BNI: Business Network International, your local Chamber of Commerce, or the National Association of Realtors.
- Join groups or clubs with a focus on your hobbies and interests such as a book club or weekly running group.
- Join a nonprofit Board of Directors, civic group (Sertoma Inc.), or service club (The American Legion).
- Time spent at volunteer events, children’s practices and activities and during business travel are all opportunities for valuable networking.
- Before you attend the event, have your purpose or goal in mind. Are you looking for career opportunities? Are you trying to expand your business? Will people you want to meet be attending?
- Many networking events are posted on social media sites such as Facebook or Eventbrite and allow you to see a list of registered guests. If possible review the list and make note of any attendees you would like to meet.
- Have a 30 second elevator pitch about yourself and organization or position based on the type of event and what your goals are.
- Bring business cards.
- “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie
- Ask open-ended questions like, “What got you interested in that field of work?”
- Ask about personal and professional interests, look for commonalities.
- Think of networking like the process of sharing, how can you make deposits into people’s emotional bank accounts?
- Introduce beneficial connections to one another.
- Identify ways to provide support to your network.
- Plan to get together to continue conversations with contacts you make a week or two after the event.
Schedule Consistent Opportunities
- Building relationships takes time and consistent effort, don’t expect overnight results.
- Make regular networking a priority by joining a weekly group.
- Look for opportunities to network where you already spend time like at the gym.
- Networking done right is a future investment like planting a garden.