By now, everyone knows how important it is to have a network of professional contacts. A strong network can not only help you find new job opportunities, it can also act as an informal knowledge library and provide a valuable sounding board for ideas and issues that may come up in your professional life.
Networking is difficult for many people, even people who aren’t naturally shy. And let’s face it, getting out of your comfort zone and meeting new people with the express purpose of making and developing professional contacts can feel a little weird. So perhaps it’s no wonder that many people don’t follow up after initial professional contact is made. They aren’t sure how to develop a network.
Developing and maintaining a professional network takes time and energy. You must spend time strengthening and deepening your professional relationships in order to get the full benefits of your network. But if you do it right, the results will be well worth the investment.
Here are some steps to help you cultivate your own network.
Be Genuinely Interested in Getting to Know People
Growing and strengthening a network really boils down to one thing -taking an interest in other people. Your network isn’t just a source of potential business leads, it’s a system of actual human beings with their own ambitions and motivations. Don’t treat your network as just a resource to tap when you want something. Your interactions with your network should go beyond “What can you do for me?” and develop into a mutually beneficial relationship.
Take the time to get to know the people in your network beyond their current job title. Find out a little bit about their ambitions and goals. Ask where they went to school. Be interested in their personal life. Communicate on a personal as well as a professional level, and your relationship will be much more satisfying, and rewarding, for both of you.
Follow your Contacts Online
When you make a professional contact, be sure to get their LinkedIn information as well as their email address and keep an eye out for them. You don’t have to stalk your contacts, but if they mention a promotion on their page, be sure to congratulate them. You could also send a link to an article that you think might be interesting to them. Staying in touch online is a great way to make sure you’re remembered.
Help your Network Out
In a network, assistance and information should flow freely. When you hear of a job opportunity, share it with your network. You should also offer to introduce people in your network to someone who might be a good business contact. For instance, if someone in your network is starting their own business and you know someone with a strong SEO background, be sure to introduce them.
If you have the time, and the ability, don’t be shy about sharing your own skills with your contacts as well. Offering to help your contacts is a great way to create a positive impression and the favors that you do now will reap rewards later.
Add “Keeping in Touch” to your Schedule
Things happen and people are busy, so it can be easy to put your network on the backburner. Unfortunately, that’s a great way to lose your network. Remember, you need to cultivate business relationships to have them grow. One way to do this setup reminders to yourself to touch base with people. You don’t need to send out a mass email – in fact, a mass email may alienate your network. But be sure to touch base, either through social media, email or otherwise with your network at least once a quarter.
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