How to Create and Use a Successful Personal and Professional Network
Career Networking

Networking is the process of creating a group of associates, then maintaining communication for the benefit of both parties. In simpler terms, it's the creation and strengthening of relationships for business or employment. Networking can be done a work, at events such as conferences and seminars, and even online through networking websites, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.

Building your network can create opportunities, keep you up-to-date on changes in your industry and company, and connect you with people who can help you advance your career (in the direction you want it to go). However, networking isn't as easy as just handing out a business card. In this article, we're going to discuss what you need to know about networking.

The Networking Mindset

When most people think about networking, they think about what they can do to build a bigger, stronger network. However, knowing what you need to do while networking, as well as thinking the right away about networking, can boost the success you'll have.

Let's talk about the mindset that you should have while networking.

  • Don't start networking with the idea that you're going to do something for someone else, and they will do something for you (such as an employment opportunity). Instead, you should always keep it in your mind that you must give so that you may receive. Don't focus your networking on what you will gain from the relationship. Instead, focus on what you can give to the people you network with. Doing it that way creates friendships and trust. You'll discover that you'll have a lot more success.

  • When building your network, pinpoint what you need to do to be visible, credible, and also profitable. You might want to participate in Chamber of Commerce activities. You could also write a column in your town newspaper or sponsor/coach a Little League team. Be visible in your business community. That will help you develop credibility.

  • Diversify your network by seeking people who aren't just like you. A lot of people make the mistake of networking only with people like them. However, if you only network with those in your profession, you'll lose out on building a far-reaching network.

  • Don't try to market to your network. Your network is essentially your sales force, so instead of trying to market to them with your standard elevator pitch, focus on your top areas of expertise. (Keep it down to two or three.) Let your network know where your expertise lies so they remember you. Marketing pitches are never remembered after they're given.

Getting in the right networking mindset will not only help you be more successful with your networking efforts, it will also help you build a stronger network.

Building a Professional Network

Building your network isn't something you're going to do once, then forget about it. It's also not something you're going to do for a certain period of time, then quit once it's complete.

You start building your network the second you decide on a career. It starts with professors or trainers you meet as you train for your career. It goes on to people you come into contact with during internships, apprenticeships, and so on. It includes co-workers, bosses, vendors, and customers. Your network contains all of the people who provide resources to you in your career – or who can provide resources.

That said, you should make it a point to interact with your professional community. Attend seminars and trade shows. Attend company parties and other get-togethers. Get involved in the community outside of work, and get to know other professionals around you. A network isn't a concrete thing. Instead, it's people you come into contact with, or know, who can provide you with resources and help – and whom you can provide with resources and help.

As you build your network, you'll also want to build a powerful network. To make it powerful, it needs to be well rounded. That said, when you build your professional network, these are the types of people you want to be sure to include:

  • The mentor. The mentor is who you aspire to be professionally. Learn from their success, as well as their mistakes.They'll have a lot of wisdom and experience to give. In addition, they'll be able to give you insight into your career as they watch you evolve.

  • The industry insider. The industry insider is someone who works in your field that has expert information. Through this person, you'll stay aware of what's happening and what's going to happen. Industry insiders are great to bounce ideas off of, because they can see what will work within the industry – and what won't.

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  • The coach . Coaches will help you with decisions and transitions.

  • The connector can connect you with resources, information, and other people. When they come across something or someone they feel will be beneficial to you, they pick up the phone or send you an email.

  • The idealist brainstorms with you whenever you have an idea. They don't care about plans or goals for your idea. They just help you grow your idea.

  • The wanna-be is someone that you mentor.

  • The partner is where you are now and is on the same path you plan to follow. You can share a lot with this person. You can share victories and defeats, as well as information and resources.

You don't have to have just one mentor, partner, or coach. You can have as many as you want. No everyone in your network will fall into any of these categories either. That's okay. However, to build a strong network, you want to be sure to include these types of people.

Creating a Networking Strategy

Everything you do in your career should be based on a strategy. Networking isn't any different. Being able to implement a strategy for networking will be the difference between building a beneficial network and just a bunch of names and faces.

The first part of creating a networking strategy is understanding why you're networking in the first place. In other words, you must define your purpose for networking.

Is it:

  • To heighten your brand's awareness? Decide if your reason for networking is simply to let others know you exist as a professional.

  • To promote your company or your company's products or services ? This especially holds true if you're self-employed. However, even if you work for someone else, part of the reason you network may be to build awareness of your company or its products or services. This will help advance your career by helping to deliver better results.

  • To grow your opportunity base? Some networkers build their network so that, either in the near future or down the road, that network will provide employment opportunities.

  • To find a job now? It's not uncommon for the unemployed, or those looking for a new job, to start networking to find different employment.

Define your purpose for networking. Of course, you can have more than one purpose. However, your purpose is part of your strategy, because it will help define what types of people you want to connect to and build a relationship with.

Next, it's time to identify your goal for networking – or what you need to achieve. To set your goals for networking:

  • Identify the type of people you need to get into contact with.

  • Decide if you should use your personal or professional networks that you've already established.

  • Decide what you need from your network, or what you can give to your network.

  • Make a list of questions or strategies that will allow you to achieve your goals.

After you've determined your goals for networking, decide how to make contact with those in the network that can help you – or that you can help. You'll have to decide which communication method to use, such as email, letter, face-to-face, phone, etc. Once you decide that, you'll have to decide the approach you want to use. The approach will be based on the method of contact. In short, the approach is how you ask for or offer what you want.

Managing Your Network

Simply making connections to build your network isn't enough. People are not baseball trading cards, and adding people's names or pictures to your list of networking contacts isn't going to be valuable to you or to them. For that reason, as you build your network, you must also maintain it.

Now, keep in mind that maintaining your network doesn't mean flooding them with irrelevant information, pictures of your last drunken binge, or silly jokes. It means cultivating relationships with the people in your network. Let's look at how you can do that.

The first step is taking advantage of social media. People who are in your network should also be on your Facebook and/or LinkedIn pages. These resources provide easy ways to keep up-to-date with your network – and them with you. Whenever you stumble across information you think will be valuable to someone in your network, send them a message and share it. If you see someone receives a promotion, congratulate them. Be active and present within your network. Thank someone when they share information that's helpful to you – and be willing to help if someone asks for it.

You can use email to share information, or to send a letter of congratulations. You can also use email to ask questions. "I want to do this… do you have any insight that may help?" This lets them know you value their expertise and strengthens your relationship with them.

In addition, you can use the phone, face-to-face meetings, and even greeting cards to maintain your network. The important thing to remember when you make contact is that this is your professional network. Make contact to ask for advice, to offer congratulations, to offer information you've received, or to exchange resources or information. Let the small talk start from there. The more you can interact with your network, the stronger a resource it will become for you.