Growing a professional network

People buy from people. We all tend to do business with people we know, like, and trust. Companies don’t make purchasing decisions, people do. Having a professional network helps to open doors that otherwise could not be opened. The old saying, “It’s who you know,” comes into play more often than one thinks.

A study conducted in 2014 by the Harvard Business Review showed that those who avoided networking had fewer billable hours and had fewer clients assigned to them. It pays to be seen.

For many years, at every local networking event, I would see “Johnny Cash.” John was a talented and successful money manager who handed out play money with his picture and business information to his prospects. He worked at being a good friend to his entire professional network. His visibility and the power of his network allowed him access to many great business opportunities.

Networking goes beyond the business card exchange. It’s cultivating connections that can help with who, where, and what information, introductions, or things you need when you ask. It’s creating links that are abundant, diverse, and wide reaching. Any time you’re out in public is time to make connections, although there is a difference between making connections at business networking events and making “friends” at social events.

Shared interests are the start of relationship building. Events and activities that are centered on organizations, events, and causes that you are passionate about and that you strongly believe in are great opportunities to meet and begin building friendships that can lead to strong networking connections. Volunteering for these causes brings people together with others who have the same passion for helping. In his book Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi says, “When we are truly passionate about something, it’s contagious. Our passion draws other people to who we are and what we care about. Others respond by letting their guard down. Which is why sharing your passion is important in business.”

Successful networking no longer depends on having a large Rolodex filled with contact names and business cards. Now, besides attending business and social events, we cultivate connections through social media and other opportunities. However, the “rules” don’t change. To grow and maintain a solid network, we still have to follow up with phone calls, email, and personal visits, among other touches. Because our fast-paced, digital world is constantly bombarding us with names and contacts that require our attention, the thought of how to follow up with someone new can be overwhelming.

Networking experts tell us that when we meet someone new who we want to add to our network, we must take the extra steps to make sure that we don’t get lost in their “mental attic.” The follow up most people remember is the one that they receive first, which suggests that a quick, short, sincere email sent after a meeting can make the best impression.

Most businesspeople will agree that networking is one of the most important business skills and so they do everything they can to invest in these connections. Good networkers approach networking as a way to build relationships, not to sell something. They are always ready to connect people to other people when they can and when it’s appropriate. While there is always someone out there who is constantly asking but never giving back, good networkers protect their contacts and they know when to abstain from passing on their connections.

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