Networking is a process that exposes you to new people, new ideas, and new ways of looking at things. Importantly, it can increase your visibility and advance your career prospects. But the creation of this structure of valuable personal interrelationships won’t just happen. You have to develop this network of organisational contacts for yourself – and here’s how you can do so…
1. Be aware of the benefits of networking.
Although networking can be a very time-consuming activity, its benefits can be very rewarding to you professionally. It can:
- help you learn from an increasing range of contacts with whom you can share ideas, advice, and strategies.
- provide you with referrals for a variety of needs. A good network will always know somebody who can help you.
- supply you with a sounding board to test your ideas, provide feedback, let off steam, or discuss problems.
- promote your career as you become known, aware, and involved.
- lessen your professional isolation, particularly if your organisation is located in a remote area.
- be enjoyable by giving you the chance to meet new colleagues, socialise, and expand your professional horizons.
2. Work to develop areas of personal expertise.
Networking presumes that members have competence and expertise, so develop your own skills and knowledge. Become a recognised authority on something, someone worth getting to know, so that you can become a vital member of the network.
3. Analyse your current network of contacts.
Examine your current network’s viability. Check your address book, business cards, correspondence files, professional association contacts, and phone index. Create an up-to-date, flexible card index or computer data-base on which to build.
4. Establish your own networking goals.
Aim at revitalising your network file over the next year. Set yourself such achievable goals as these:
- Meet at least two new professional contacts each month.
- Attend two major conferences this year.
- Join an organisation comprising local business or community leaders.
- Submit two articles to a professional journal during the coming year.
- Contact at least four colleagues on the network file every month.
5. Get out there, promote yourself, make contact.
The key to networking is to raise your visibility. Attend meetings, serve on committees, write for journals, speak to gatherings, become a spokesperson. Meet as many people as you can. If you meet a potential network contact, widen the conversation and find out all you can about that person. The longest journey always begins with a first step, so find out and file all you can about people you meet.
6. Sell networking to others.
Encourage colleagues to network. Talk it over with them. Your own network will get stronger if all those in it develop active networks of their own.
7. Make sure networking benefits all parties.
As John Naisbitt wrote in ‘Megatrends’, ‘In the network environment, rewards come by empowering others, not by climbing over them.’ Networking is a two-way street. Self-centredness becomes quite transparent to network contacts. The more you can help your contacts, the more they will want to help you. As Robyn Henderson says in ‘Networking for Success’, networking is ‘giving without hooks’.
8. Be an advocate of others.
Talk regularly to members in your network and, if someone has a need you cannot fulfil, offer to share a contact. You’ll be doing both a favour, fulfilling the needs of one while providing the opportunity of another contact for the other. And you’ll be strengthening the network itself.
9. Consider these important points also…
- Keep up-to-date notes about the people you meet, so that you can refer to those notes later.
- Grade your contacts A, B, or C so that you can prioritise your time in following through. Focus on those people with whom regular contact will be most mutually beneficial.
- Touch base regularly with your contacts – through phone calls, letters, swapping articles of interest, socialising, meetings, and so on. Do so often enough to maintain the relationship.
- Don’t expect instant miracles. Positive outcomes are often not immediately apparent. Rewarding professional relationships, formed through networking, develop over a period of time.
- The key word is ASK. If people can’t help you, ask whether they can refer you to someone who might be able to help.
- Swap business cards at every opportunity. Jot down useful information about your new contacts on the back of their business cards.
- Set up meetings and organise other people. Make things happen.
- Thank everyone who helps you. A written note of thanks will strengthen links and encourage others to think of you in future.