How To Build A Strong Professional Network

In All, Core Knowledge, Networking by Lucas Bazemore5 Comments

No matter what stage of life you’re in, a well-developed network can be the foundation of a successful professional life. This network includes family, friends, colleagues, mentors, advisors, and others.

Most have heard the expression, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” There is some truth to that. According to Abowd, Kramarz, and Margolis 1 out of every 3 jobs if found through a friend, a family member, or a colleague. Read the story of Greg Roche, and realize why a good network might be helpful even if you’re already employed.

Now, you might not be looking for a job, but there are still plenty of reasons why you should build a strong professional network. Harvard Business Review has an article – How Leaders Create and Use Networks – that can shed light on another facet of why building a strong network can be advantageous.

Here are some simple reasons why you should build a strong network:

  • Progress down your own career path faster
  • Become an authority in your domain
  • Find mentors and life advisors
  • Get referral business or people willing to help you
  • Find your first set of business co-founders
  • Become a go-to point for others looking to network
  • Expand your cultural awareness
  • Find new career paths

Synopsis

0) Have a desire to create a strong network. 1) Set an easily attainable goal at first. 2) Start with family and friends. Look around the internet. Join a club. 3) Give… a lot. 4) Find a buddy to help you out. 5) Remind yourself to reach out. 6) Let people know how you can be helped. 7) Build a system to do all of those things. 8) Repeat.

Step 0. Desire to Cultivate Strong Relationships

The first thing to understand about network building is that it is going to be between you and another human being. You are building a relationship. And, as with any relationship, it’s a two way street. Building relationships takes time and energy. It takes maintenance. It takes love and care. It’s not something you can rush into. And it’s not something you will ever considered to be “done” with. You are making the conscious effort to put in the time and energy it takes to foster new relationships because you know the power of people.

Step 1. Set a Goal

crowd of people searching for answers

Based on the psychology of goal setting you should start with a very simple goal in mind. If you’re busy, this could be something as simple as:

Add 3 people with <insert expertise here> to my network this year.

Or if you’re more ambitious:

Add 3 people with <insert expertise here> to my network this month.

This will help guide your efforts and let you check your progress as you begin to meet with people.

You can begin with an initial pilot test. See how long it takes you to find a handful of individuals that you would like to be a part of your network. Roughly, track how much times it takes you to find him / her, and the time it takes to initially engage with those individuals. If it takes you a collective 20 hours of searching, emailing, going to conferences and events, to find 1 individual, then you know it will take at least 60 hours of work to find 3 people to add to your network.

You can use the tool Toggl in order to help keep track of your time.

Also check out this review by Lewis Parrott on Toggle as well.

Step 2. Find People

In order to get the right people into your network (people you trust) you are going to have to meet a lot people. In order to meet a lot of people you need to find a lot of people.

Start by writing a list of all the types of people that you’d like to have within your sphere of influence. This can anyone from lawyers to doctors to entrepreneurs to experts in industry. Don’t be afraid to aim high.

Tim Ferris, author of the 4 Hour Work Week, challenged students to a competition and this was one of the results: How to get George Bush or the CEO of Google on the phone

Thankfully, there are several ways of going about that.

Start with your family and friends.

Ask them if they know <insert type of person you’d like to meet>. They are most likely the best source for an introduction or a warm referral.

  1. Simply ask if they know anyone that works in your area of interest.
  2. Ask for an introduction, either through email or face-to-face.
  3. Have some questions prepared beforehand. It shows you’re actually interested in them and what they know.

Get looking Online

The internet is as great as ever at finding the people you want to meet. Start with these easily available resources to broader your search.

Reddit

Join subreddits. Subreddits are the best place to find individuals who are passionate about their field. The quality of each subreddit varies, but they are usually full of individuals willing to help out and provide value.

Understand that each subreddit has its own quirks. Subscribe to the applicable subreddit and ask questions. Learn from the content already available.

An example of a great Subreddit with a strong community is reddit.com/r/entrepreneur

Quora

Since its inception, Quora has been a curator of answers by a community of experts. That is whole goal of Quora. Because of this, the profiles of everyone that posts an answer is available for anyone to see. The wonderful element of Quora is that you can message anyone through his/her message portal.

Twitter

One of the best things that Twitter has is Twitter Lists. These lists usually contain individuals within the same profession, industry, or hobby. Buffer has a great article about twitter lists and how to use them.

LinkedIn

Obviously Linkedin will help you find people, but a few tricks to help you find people is always helpful.

You can find a list of useful tricks at Hubspot: 22 LinkedIn Hacks That’ll Make You More Productive

Facebook Groups

Facebook groups are usually very easy to join and allow you to communicate with anyone in the group. Most groups are very open and allow almost anyone to join the group.

Blogs

Most people these days have a personal website or blog and they are usually easy to locate. A lot of these blogs have the owners email available as well. The email may be written out like “first.last at gmail dot com” in order to keep search engines from indexing their email address. Try not to overlook those!

Articles and Websites

This is a bit of no brainer. Find the authors of blog posts that you like reading and follow them on social media or find their email. You can usually do a Google search of the person and find additional information on them if you can’t find anything from the site.

screenshot of harvard business review

Budget your time

Set aside 15 minutes a day to simply scour the internet and find out more about these individuals. Feel free to try to connect with them and ask a couple of questions related to their industry. Ask questions that you are genuinely curious about.

Get looking outside

Start meeting new people in real life. You might need to get out of your comfort zone a little bit, but you are eventually going to need to meet people in real life. You don’t want to compromise on this aspect. There are hundreds of places to meet people, but here is a starting list:

  • Local Chamber of Commerce
  • Industry Meetups
  • Conferences and Seminars related to your industry
  • Conferences and Seminars related to a complementary industry
  • Networking events
  • Lunch and Learns
  • See if local companies host events open to the public
  • Local University events
  • Join clubs (really any kind) for your personal hobbies
  • Join a gym

Drea Knufken shares the 25 best places to network in case the above wasn’t enough. The whole point here is to meet people. And meet a lot of people. You never who might help you reach your goals.

*Note: As you meet people, try to remember important details about them, birthdays, kids names, recent vacations, hobbies.

Step 3. Give before you ask

It’s best practice to provide value first before asking for anything. In Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, he strongly advocates that in any relationship you must provide value not once, not twice, or even three times (jabs), but 4, 5, 6 or even more times before you can ask (hook) for anything.

Become a connoisseur of interesting and helpful things. People are interested in a diversity of content. Make sure you share this content with others in your field. Some potentially helpful sites to find new and interesting:

Just constantly be on the lookout for people, content, events, etc. You can share this content with the people you are engaging.

A study on the social principle of reciprocity conducted by MIT showed that when participants were given cake and shared a portion of the cake, the party recieving the cake would in turn repriprocate with the same portion of cake shared. So if the participant shared 20%, they would get 20% back, but if they shared 60%, they would in turn get 60% back.

This principle works hand in hand with providing value to the people in your network. The more that you give, the more you receive. Mark Suster from Upfront Ventures tells Why You Should Give Before You Get.

What do you do if you feel as though you’ve got nothing to give?

Give your attention. Give your feedback.

Even if you have nothing to give to start with, you always have your time. If you know someone has written a book. Read it. Connect with them. Comment on it. This shows the other person that you spent the time to read the book and reach out to him / her.

Take the time to read his or her blog posts, tweets, or articles written. Take the time to learn more about the other person. This shows that you are genuinely taking an interest in that person.

You always have something to give, so make sure you are doing your best to give before you ask for anything.

Step 4. Get a buddy

This is something most people forget. Find someone that is in a similar, complementary field looking to network. For instance, you can find someone in Marketing, Sales, or HR and is looking to meet people in your industry. Getting a networking buddy does a few things:

  1. It doubles the number of people you can reach.
  2. It allows you to relax. Your objectives are no longer strictly focused on you. You are helping your buddy too.
  3. Holds you accountable for networking and meeting new people.
  4. If you’re going to networking events together, you have a person to fall back on.

This step can be the make or break to your networking efforts. Especially if you’re shy and not one to be super social.

Step 5. Create a reminder system

As you begin to start building relationships with individuals, it can be all too easy to let time pass by. At best, the relationship simply fades away. At worst, you leave the other person with a sour memory of you.

When given the opportunity you should connect with that individual as often as seems appropriate.

Here is a list of possible reasons to connect with a person:

  • Stay up to date with a project
  • Share progress on a project
  • Provide a resource or document you mentioned in conversation
  • Share interesting information, referrals, or resources
  • Remind them about an upcoming event
  • Say Happy Birthday
  • Say Thank You for something
  • Celebrate their favorite team winning, getting a new job, getting married (celebratory stuffs)
  • Let them know you were talking about them recently or recommending them to another individual
  • Ask for their expertise

He is a list of unconventional reasons to send a card, though you can use them as an excuse to reach out to someone.

Create a reminder system to reach out to the people you meet. This can be once every 3 weeks to once every 3 months to once every 6 months. Just depends on how often you want to be in contact with that person or what is acceptable.

Here is an example of how often you can reach out to certain individuals:

Obviously you’ll change this depending on your needs. Your time frame depends on the type of relationship you have with that individual. The longest time frame should be 6 months. After that long, people tend to forget who you are.

Step 6. How can you be helped?

As Andrew Hennigan mentions in his book Payforward Networking, you need to let people know how they can help you.

Most people are willing to help you out so long as they know how to help! If you mention that you have a problem with growing your business, or you want to learn how to really get into the music industry, you need to be able to communicate that with your network. This extends your reach much farther!

Step 7. Create your system

Test some of the stuff above to find out what works well for you. Then, you can begin to build a system of networking that can really take your game to the next level.

  1. First you’ll have to test the channels where you find people. Reach out to these people and start a dialogue. Experiment and see what works best for you.
  2. Figure out how you can help others.
  3. Determine how often you should connect with certain individuals and how to contact them.
  4. Repeat until you feel as though you’ve got a diverse network of individuals.
  5. Nurture your network with good habits of sharing and providing value.
  6. You can’t build indefinitely, so obviously some people will fall away while other relationships get stronger. That is okay.
  7. Repeat, evaluate, and continue to meet people

Conclusion

Begin by building your relationships one person at a time. You don’t have to find 100 people tomorrow. Just find one, reach out to them, open a conversation, and go from there.

You aren’t going to have an all-star network tomorrow. You might not even have an all-start network in 5 years. But if you keep using your system, adjusting it when necessary, and stay in touch with people, you will build a strong professional network!

If anything is missing, please feel free to comment and provide suggestions on how to make this post better!

About the Author

Lucas Bazemore

Facebook Twitter Google+

Lucas Bazemore is the co-founder of Ryze | The Personal Relationship Manager. Lucas has worked in sales and marketing in commercial HVAC and in Oil and Gas. Lucas has studied networking and relationship management.

Ryze | The Personal Relationship Manager is a tool for the man or woman who values the power of relationships. Stay on top of those relationships that matter to you!