We’ve all heard the phrase “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Throughout my career, I’ve built relationships with many people who have influenced me professionally. Some have gotten me jobs, others have helped me through the highs and lows, and some have shared their expertise to help me solve a business problem and move my career forward. My success has been attributed not only to my skills, but also to the people who have helped me reach my goals.
Whether you are a college student, business professional, or entrepreneur, getting in touch with the right people who can help you achieve your goals is essential to success. Even though networking is so important in career growth, many people find some level of discomfort with it. They say things like:
· How do I build a network?
· Where do I find people to meet?
· What should I say when networking with others?
These are questions most of us have asked at one point or another in our careers and to which we are continuously seeking answers as we move through our professional lives. Networking is not just about getting a job or making a sale; it’s about building relationships that are mutually beneficial where growth and development is occurring on a regular basis.
If you have been challenged to recognize where to start with networking, here are four things you can do to become a strategic networker and build lasting relationships.
1: Have a Clear GoalIf you have been attending networking events “just to meet people,” it’s time to get strategic. Building a great network starts with having a goal in mind. As Stephen R. Covey said in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind.” If you can begin with the end in mind and have a clear sense of direction of who you want to meet and why you want to meet them, your chances of success will be significantly greater. List out your business and professional goals and what kind of people you will need to reach them.
2: Build Your “Advisory Board”Once you have your goals lined up, it’s time to find people with whom you can develop a mutually beneficial relationship. Think of your network as your personal “advisory board” with diverse areas of expertise and personalities to guide you in your professional journey. Here is a list of potential people to seek out:
· career coach
· experienced professional in your industry or career track
· junior professional in your industry or career track
· business leader
· C-suite executive.
There are countless options when it comes to building your network, but these are just a few ideas to get you started. When thinking about who you want on your advisory board, think about the different types of expertise you will need to reach your goals and consider leveraging online networking tools like LinkedIn to initiate contact.
3: Seek to Add ValueAs we’ve discussed, the goal of networking is to build mutually beneficial relationships. Once you have your network established and are able to start having intentional conversations about your goals and career, be sure to ask the other person, “What can I do to help you be more successful?” Typically, people think of this question as something a leader would ask someone they are coaching or mentoring, but it can work both ways. You may find that this question opens the conversation in a completely different way. In addition to asking how you can add value, be sure to follow up on your commitments and be intentional about building a mutually beneficial relationship.
4: Make the Most of Every OpportunityWhether you are reaching out via email to initiate contact, having a networking meeting, or attending an event, be sure you are doing everything you can to make the most out of every opportunity. This includes:
· preparing questions
· listening in conversations
· following up and expressing gratitude
· dressing and acting professionally.
If you can make the most of every opportunity, regardless of the situation, you will be able to effectively build your advisory board, grow your network, and achieve your goals.