You have probably heard this phrase before: “your network is your net worth.” It is obvious that networking has become much more than a buzzword. In fact, it is a powerful tool that can make or break your career. And in today’s interconnected world, it has become more important than ever to maintain a strong network of contacts for you and your company.
Continually expanding your network can have great value when it comes to recruitment, business partnerships, outside endeavors, and so much more.
Today we are going to take a look at how a robust business network can take your confidence and career path to new places. We will also give some pointers on how to build and maintain valuable connections.
The Benefits of Business Networking
It may sound a little Hollywood, but the business world is often more about who you know, not what you know.
Here are just a few of the benefits of building a solid business network:
- It can lead to new business
This is probably the most obvious benefit, but making new connections opens the door for new business opportunities and referrals. For example, you might meet a potential new client or partner just by attending an event related to your field.
- It makes you more visible
One of the biggest perks of regular networking is boosting your reputation and profile within your industry. The more people see your face, learn your name, and know what you bring to the table, the more clout you will build (if you are engaging in positive and meaningful ways).
- It makes you a potential resource
This goes hand-in-hand with visibility. If people are aware of your expertise and you’ve made an impact on them, guess who they will contact when they need help with something? You.
- It provides new ideas and perspectives
Networking means engaging with all kinds of different people who come from all different backgrounds. You and everyone you meet can bring something unique to the table. Collaborating (or even just talking) can lead to new business ideas, new insights, and so much more. Not only can this help you learn new things, but it can help you avoid mistakes, save you time, and make sure you never run out of fresh ideas.
- It gives you a stronger support network
No matter what industry you are in, hard times happen. You may lose your job, face a seemingly-impossible deadline, or come across a problem you don’t have the expertise to handle. During situations like these, a strong network can really pay off. The connections you make could lead to career opportunities during rough times, give you resources when you face a challenge, and so much more.
- It can give you access to industry influencers
Another invaluable benefit of networking is access to influential people who you would have a hard time getting in touch with otherwise. Industry events often feature workshops from business bigwigs and pros from other parts of the world. You may leave an event with a few phone numbers of interesting people who can introduce new ideas to your team. These events also offer the perfect opportunities to get face-to-face and make connections with some powerful people; no cold emailing or games of phone tag required.
- It builds your social skills and confidence
This is an advantage of networking that people often overlook. As you network, your confidence and self-value can grow tremendously. Sometimes it can feel out of your comfort zone to be surrounded by other professionals. But in the end, you’ll get more accustomed to presenting your skill set, speaking to people of power, and so forth – ultimately making you more confident in what you have to offer.
- It keeps you in the know
The more you network, the more likely you are to stay up-to-date on the business climate, news, and trends. Attending events like workshops or seminars, or even just talking to people who are leaders in their fields, means you continually have access to the latest information and strategies.
- It leads to new friendships
Networking often puts you in contact with people who share your passions, interests, and career path. Meeting like-minded individuals in a business setting can not only give you a virtual Rolodex of potential resources, but it can lead to lasting friendships. And let’s face it: making friends as an adult is definitely harder than it was on the playground as a kid!
- It strengthens existing relationships
Networking allows people to see more of who you are and what you can provide. For example, you might attend an event and spot a coworker you never see outside of work. This presents an opportunity for them to see more of your personality and look at your value from a different perspective.
- It can be incredibly satisfying
Networking is certainly a give-and-take system. It allows you to exchange ideas and skills, but more importantly, it makes you a valuable resource to others. And when you are able to provide insights or help someone else achieve their goals, it is incredibly satisfying to you as well.
How to Build Your Network
If you’re new to networking, you may be asking yourself where to start. Getting your foot in the door is easier than you might think.
Here are some easy ways to start networking:
- Join relevant clubs and groups
This can take some research, but you’ll find many networking resources through group affiliations. For example, if you’re a marketer, most major cities have an ad club, small business association, city of commerce, and so forth – all of which come rich with resources and hosted events. Even just attending occasional meetings can give you access to professionals who can benefit your career.
Social media can be another great way to find clubs or events that fit your needs. LinkedIn features hundreds of groups and associations. Facebook has groups based on various fields and interests; MeetUp can help you find events and groups that fit your goals; Eventbrite is full of local happenings. Opportunities are everywhere!
- Attend networking events
As we mentioned a moment ago, most clubs and associations host events on a regular basis. Everything from happy hours and mixers to multi-day conventions is happening constantly. Some events cost money or require a membership fee, but there are many free events as well.
Once you find groups or associations you are interested in, be sure you subscribe to their newsletters as well. Often times, you don’t even have to look for events to attend – they’ll send the information straight to you!
- Get involved in mentorship programs
Many businesses, clubs, and schools offer valuable mentorship programs. A simple Google search can help you find programs in your area that may fit your needs. This is a great way to learn from people and companies in our field that have successful track records.
Tips for Making New Connections
By taking a genuine interest in a person’s line of work and providing them with value, you’re building a relationship that has the opportunity to benefit both parties.
Here are a few simple things you can do when engaging with a potential new connection that will help foster a lasting relationship:
- Learn about their background
Ask the person about what they do and how they got to this point in their career; get some insights on who they are as a person, their character and so forth.
- Ask their goals
- Learning about a potential connection’s ambitions is critical. If your goals line up, you can prove to be valuable to each other in the future.
- Share knowledge
As we touched on earlier, ideas and insights are just a conversation away. If you can provide someone with valuable knowledge, they’re likely to return the favor plus build more trust with you.
- Build rapport
Always be friendly and open, and aim to have positive interactions as much as possible. The more a potential connection feels they can trust you, the more open they will be to sharing ideas and opportunities.
How to Maintain Your Network
Maintaining a great business network takes a little effort, but is well worth it.
Here are a few pointers for sustaining your network of connections:
- Don’t burn bridges
This can’t be stressed enough.
Maybe you’ve heard the story of a man going in for an interview only the find out the CEO conducting it was the same person he directed his road rage at in traffic earlier that day. While there’s a bit of “wrong place, wrong time” in that tale, it’s a prime reminder that you never know who you will run into.
Someone you criticized on social media or butted heads with in the past can end up being (or knowing) the person who decides your fate at some point in your career. This is especially true with how far-reaching social media is. Something you do or say can haunt your career path forever, so keeping it positive and thinking before you act can help make your life and your job easier.
- Engage in meaningful ways, and do it consistently
Networking is more than showing up to events or occasionally saying hello to another professional. It takes effort and engagement, so be sure that you are interacting in meaningful ways. Discuss things that bring value to your connections, send them information you came across that you think will benefit them, congratulate them on promotions and new endeavors, and so forth. And be sure you are connecting on a regular basis so you aren’t forgotten.
- Don’t neglect the power of social media
Social media at its core is meant for making and maintaining relationships. So be sure you are taking advantage of your social channels to learn about your connections, communicate with them, and foster positive relationships.
- Be self-aware
In the business world, you yourself are a brand—so make sure you are maintaining a great one. Be aware of your actions as well as what you say or share. For example, if you’re at an event with alcohol, make sure you are pacing yourself if you plan to partake. And be very careful about what you share on social media.
You might be surprised at the impact your social media accounts can have on your professional life. Don’t assume that business connections don’t have access to your content or are just looking at your LinkedIn profile. Social media can be incredible tools for communicating and maintaining relationships, but that old picture of you in a bathing suit, holding a beer and wearing a towel as a cape is not likely to get you hired or seen as a serious businessperson. You never know who’s looking, so control your content and stay away from controversy as much as possible.
The most important thing to keep in mind when networking is staying sincere in your efforts. Not every connection will prosper into a business relationship, but every connection has the opportunity to teach you something. If you approach networking with this mindset, it will be an enjoyable and fulfilling process that yields personal growth for years to come.