6 Steps To Build A Professional Network

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Networking is a funny thing: all professionals are expected to engage in it, but we spend very little time discussing how to actually go about it. Maybe we’re reluctant to bring it up because we don’t want to seem like we’re not in the know. After all, how uncomfortable is it to seek networking advice from those in your own network? But as it turns out, all of us can benefit from some networking advice. Networking is an art form unto itself, one with its own subtle and overt codes of conduct. Here are a few tips and tricks that discuss how to go about building ourselves a strong and legitimate professional network.

Take A Sincere, Authentic Interest In Getting To Know Others
Networking is all about building personal relationships and personal relationships are all about giving. Don’t worry about the “taking” part, because when you build the right relationships, the people you’re networking with will give to you in ways you often were not expecting. Just focus on what YOU can give THEM. At a minimum, remember their name and what they do. At a more advanced level, stay in touch with them, share with them articles and information they might find useful and/or interesting. At a maximum level, be of VALUE. In all our networks, there are main players and there are side players. Whichever one you are to other people all depends on how much value you have to offer them.

Casual Connections Draw Big Results
I’m a partner of a philanthropic based organization, Social Venture Partners, which is a global network of local partners that connects passion and purpose while cultivating effective philanthropists, strengthening nonprofits, and investing in collaborative solutions. Shortly after completing my MBA, I reached out to a fellow partner, sharing my interest in management consulting and asking about his experiences. Next thing I knew, we were having lunch. I loved soaking up this guy’s story, but when it was my turn to share my own experiences, doors started flying open for me. He helped me secure interviews in my desired city, and maintained consistent communication with me afterward. Nowadays, I look at him as a mentor. The seed that grew into this big tree of a relationship was my genuine interest in what the guy was up to.

How To Find The Hotspots & Coldspots In Your Network
The hot spots in your network are the valuable people. The givers, the movers, the shakers, the creators, the providers, the conscious people, the present people. As for the cold spots? I’ll give you one guess. If you said “takers”, you nailed it. Worse than cold, these people are black holes: they suck all matter into nothingness. They only come around when they need something. They always leave you feeling like you’ve been drained. Don’t be that guy or gal. Be the hot spot who’s always adding something new to the equation.

Offline Connections Have The Realest Electricity
So many of our communications occur online, and those can certainly be valuable and genuine, but it’s offline where the rubber truly meets the road. The deepest networking happens face-to-face, and conventions are a major part of that. SHOW UP. Be operating in three dimensions. See who you click with. Befriend people in different fields. Moreover, SHOW UP WITH A PLAN. What’s your goal for the conference? What are you walking in with that you’d rather not walk out with? Maybe it’s a new job opportunity. Maybe it’s a certain caliber of ally. People are naturally social and love being together. Don’t miss out on that amazing side of life and business.

Make Your Network Physical
I keep my network in an Excel spreadsheet. Whenever I can, I update it. It has names, addresses, emails, birthdays, specialties, the spots where we first met, ways I can help them, and even other people whose interests might coincide with their own. I always keep an eye on my network, and always send out articles of interest to the people in it. This lets them know they’re on my mind, that I care about them, and take them seriously. Also, after meeting them, I always make a positive follow-up within 24 hours. This demonstrates presence, consistency, and dependability on my part; the spreadsheet allows me to navigate the landscape with ease and clarity.

“Be Yourself”
It’s what everybody tells you before a first date, or any other important encounter: “Be Yourself.” This is so true because if you start off a relationship on an inauthentic note, it will never pay off in a way that truly resonates with your soul. Even if you get everything you ever dreamed of out of it, that’ll feel pretty lousy if you didn’t act like your real self. Moreover, while you’re being yourself, keep all topics positive – at least during those first couple encounters, and ESPECIALLY when you’re meeting a major figure. The last thing you want to do is bring up how the industry leader you respect was recently in legal hot water. Do your homework, uncover positive and uncontroversial points to touch upon, and make the best of possible impressions by showing up as YOU.

Be Fully Present
I don’t just mean you have to listen and be engaged, even though you do. I mean that when you leave the house, please do so with all your gear in check. In other words, make sure your phone is charged and your wallet is stocked with business cards. For example, I was once in an elevator with CNN anchor whose commentary I much admired. Unfortunately I couldn’t connect with him outside of the elevator because I didn’t have any business cards with me and my phone had died from a previous business call that lasted longer than expected. So instead of the contact, I learned a disappointing lesson and it’s not a lesson I’ll be forgetting anytime soon.