Professional Networking – verb. Any process by which you expand your network of business connections.
Professional networking is establishing a real connection with another business professional. You work together to advance your professional lives, and the goals of your business and customers.
Customers can be valuable network members, but the most valuable are frequently people from outside your customer base. Inside your industry there are key players, and you want to know them. Make it a mix of the two.
Conventions, industry happy hours, and professional organization meetings all can be networking activities. Charity events like fun runs, and community events like school reunions are a good start. Try LinkedIn, other social media, and attending events where your target market recreates. Don’t attend these events blindly! Bring cards and a sincere handshake. Target the connections that will be the most useful to you, and who you can help, and cultivate them.
Recently some sales professionals have been actively preaching against professional networking. Bad networking is out there, and a total waste of time. What is bad networking? Collecting business cards and shaking hands is not networking. If you’re going to stop there, don’t bother. Effective networking brings you prospective customers, job offers, references, referrals, and a bigger paycheck.
Why build a network? Connections in vertical markets can help you learn more about your business, and stay on top of changes in the industry. Keep track of the competition. Connections outside your vertical are key community contacts, and great for getting fresh, objective perspectives. Connections can become advisers, and mentors on tough days. They pave the way for introductions to hard-to-reach professionals. These contacts are a key part of your professional life. Maintain contact with them through occasional emails and phone calls, coffees and lunches, and build your relationship over time. Their objectivity will help keep you grounded. Their professional networks will be resources for you, and yours will be for them. Remember it’s a two-way street! Be there for them. You need to prove your value before the relationship truly blossoms.
When you reach out to a network prospect, you’ll treat it like a sales call. Talk about them. You’ll focus on their position in their market, and learn what their goals are. Helping your network members achieve their goals is key to a productive relationship. Make an effort to share articles with them, and connect them to appropriate business people in your world. Follow them on social media. Recognize their accomplishments and milestones. As you demonstrate a genuine interest, you’ll gain their loyalty and their interest in you.
Beyond keeping you “in the know,” there is always someone your clients are looking to meet. Introduce your network to each other whenever possible.
How does your professional network help you? We’d love to hear from you.