Building your professional network

Whether you are exploring or working in a new domain, or an old hand at what you do, having a professional network you can tap into is a precious commodity. Ideally, you are cultivating your network continuously. Many people find themselves on the job market suddenly and set about networking to find a job.  Realistically, your network will be the most powerful for you if you maintain and grow it continuously.

A professional network is a great resource to :

  • Learn

  • Share expertise

  • Float new ideas

  • Find new opportunities

Let’s explore the primary sources for your professional network.

Your job

If you have a job, you have at least the beginnings of a professional network. Every person you work with has network potential – whether they are part of your organization, a supplier, customer, partner. It’s up to you to establish a genuine connection with your colleagues.

The best way to have a network full of people ready to help you is to find ways you can help or add value to the people in your network. It’s a two-way street.  Are you sharing or preciously protecting knowledge and your expertise? Are you collaborative or do you prefer to advance your ideas on your own?

You get what you give to your network – knowledge, time, assistance.

Birds of a feather

You work in both a domain (like sales or marketing or customer service) and an industry (like retail or health or IT). You can find communities of people who are in either your domain or industry – and sometimes both. Finding online resources is not going to be a problem. Finding one or two online communities can be essential – not only for building your network, but for continuous learning.

The bests communities have a combination of :

  • Generous online content / resources

  • Vibrant forums with conversations

  • Physical events

  • Local chapters are a plus

Once you identify the communities, become a part of them, interact.  Make it a regular habit to visit the community and to search out activities which will enable you to “meet”, virtually or physically, people in the same area of expertise.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the largest professional network with more 546 million users in over 200 countries. I particularly like their motto : to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. This is not only a place to find your next job.  There is a great exchange of information happening all the time.  Is there a lot of marketing going on? Of course there is. But there is more than that to it.

What better way to expand your network than this global forum? You can showcase your own expertise and tap into others’ expertise. The more you share, the more your peers will begin to follow you and your network will grow. But many experts on LinkedIn are happy to share their knowledge with people who are just starting out in their job or industry.

If you are just getting started, don’t be afraid to jump in and meet new people who can help you grow every day. Ask questions and amazing often, people will answer.

Face to face

Every person we meet has the potential to be meaningful for us. On airplanes, in the checkout lane, outside school picking up your kids…. But some places are more likely to yield a professional connection.  Industry and domain events, training courses, local networking events, all these places are a mine of networking opportunities. It’s up to you to put yourself there.

A few final tips

Don’t be afraid to ask for introductions.  If you are sitting down physically or virtually with someone you have been introduced to, do your homework. Look at their online profile and learn what you can so you don’t waste precious time asking for simple background you could have come to the table with.  Doing your homework enables you to identify areas of common ground and interest which can help you genuinely connect.

Dedicate time to working on your network. The best way to maintain momentum in anything is to make it a habit. So maybe that’s 15 minutes a day checking on your different connection points. Maybe it is one networking activity a month. It can be whatever you decide, just do it regularly.

Find ways to stay in touch. Some people in your network will stay in touch naturally, others will not. Part of that time dedicated to working on your network should include maintaining connections and relationships and not just finding new ones.

Finally, be genuine.  Genuine human interest and curiosity make a difference. If interest is feigned, people will eventually pick up on it. It takes time and effort to create and maintain a network – enjoy it.

Interested in how coaching can help you to build and maintain a professional network? Contact me for a free coaching discovery session.