Everyone knows networking confidently and successfully is key for business and professional growth, but it’s not always easy. Your goal should be to maintain a position of being top-of-mind for your targeted prospects. It’s so much easier to attract their attention if they're thinking about you when you reach out to discuss opportunities.
However, if you’re a busy professional or entrepreneur, you need to manage your time well. It’s difficult to juggle priorities, and networking sometimes gets neglected. Or, you may find yourself only networking when you need help, and you lose the potential benefits of making strong connections because most people don't want to network with someone who appears needy or appears to have a personal agenda.
Matt Kress is co-founder of Relate.ly, an app that tracks interactions and automatically reminds busy professionals and entrepreneurs to reconnect with their contacts. He offers the following suggestions to help you proactively network on a regular basis.
Prioritize networking. Kress notes: “You need to be proactively building and strengthening relationships so that when something comes up or there is an opportunity for someone to refer business to you, you're top-of-mind.” Depending on your organizational style, you may need to schedule time during your week to network, or even set a reminder on your smartphone so you’ll have an auditory cue that it’s time to work on your network.
“Your network is usually the first thing that gets pushed back," Kress says. "Those relationships with the people that aren't yelling at you or stressing you out don't get the attention that they deserve. This leads to important people in your network falling out of touch over time.” Avoid allowing people who cause you problems to dominate your network. When you make a concerted effort to connect with the people you want to know or would like to know better, you’ll have much more control of your future opportunities than you might have thought possible.
Be organized. When your networking alarm goes off, you don’t want to scramble to think of what steps to take. Kress suggests you review your contacts and stay organized so you’ll be in a good position to tap your network. Consider going through your contacts on LinkedIn and other social networking websites, and also look through your personal address book or even your calendar. What relationship would benefit from some follow up on your part? Did you meet with a great prospect or contact weeks ago and never reconnect? Is someone waiting to hear from you?
Designate some hours to pore through your contacts, paying special attention to anyone you haven’t heard from in a long time and people you really liked. Networking is less of a chore when you think about it as reconnecting with people you enjoy seeing.
“All it takes to grow your network is reaching out to three people a day," Kress says. "In less time than it takes to brew a coffee, and you'll be maintaining a relationship with over 90 people a month.”
Connect without an ask. Networking’s bad reputation comes from people who only network when they want something. If you make a habit of reaching out just to say hello, or to offer some information or advice to someone you know without needing anything in return, you may find your network becomes more amenable and interested in you. When you are the person who provides information and resources, doors open for you that may otherwise have stayed closed.
Keep track of the interests of people you know. Is someone a big lacrosse fan? Send a note or call when you hear there’s going to be a lacrosse exhibition in town. Your contact loves cruises? Send a link to a big write up about the best new cruise ships coming online this season. It’s not difficult to network professionally with a personal connection.
Follow up in various ways. Be politely persistent. It’s not enough to just reach out to people. If you don’t actually speak, you’ve lost the opportunity to have a meaningful connection. If you want to reach someone who is difficult to contact, try using different tools to engage with them. Maybe the person is overwhelmed with emails, but responds to direct messages on Twitter right away. Or perhaps someone never answers their phone or checks their voice mails, but is certain to view a text message.
Follow these easy steps, and you’ll see your network grow and expand in ways that will help you succeed.
Miriam Salpeter, owner of Keppie Careers, is often quoted in major media outlets for her job search and social media expertise. Author of three books and a sought-after speaker and coach, she leverages her extensive background and successes to teach job seekers and entrepreneurs how to easily use social media marketing to accomplish their career and business goals. Salpeter also provides strategic advice and support regarding interviewing, résumé writing and personal branding.