You’ve probably heard that the key to growing your business and getting ahead in your career is to network, network, network. Well, that’s because it’s true! But no matter how popular technology becomes, you simply cannot restrict your networking efforts to the internet. Although I was able to build up both of my businesses largely through social media, my most influential professional relationships have actually come from an initial in-person meeting.
Back in the day, before email, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, people actually made connections face to face most of the time. A phone call was more preferable to email, and most business was done through word of mouth. These days, online tools have made communication much less time-consuming, but the old-fashioned ways of networking still hold true.
So here are four ways to build a strong professional network – just like people used to do back in the day.
1. Join a Professional Association or Membership Organization
The best thing about associations is that they provide you with a ready-made network as soon as you pay your membership fee. Those membership dues can really add up though, so I suggest you only join and participate in the ones that are most relevant to you. Some of the more well-known organizations with a strong focus on networking include BNI, National Association of Professional Women (NAPW), National Association of Women Business Owners (NAPWO) and the National Black MBA Association. Here in Hawaii, I belong to the Honolulu chapter of Femfessionals, a professional association for business women. Click here to find a chapter in your city (or start your own!).
2. Attend Industry Conferences and Training Events
Conferences are the holy grail of networking. You get to learn from some of the top leaders in the field as well as build relationships with like-minded colleagues. Of course, conference tickets come with a price tag, but having the opportunity to meet so many industry professionals in one place is priceless!. You will meet your peers, as well as experienced professionals who could be your next business partner, affiliate or mentor. Our upcoming Launch Yourself Tour is a great example of a training event that doubles as a powerful networking opportunity. Whatever you do, don’t forget your business cards!
3. Invite New Contacts to Lunch
Hey, everybody’s gotta eat lunch, right? Go through all the contacts you’ve met recently and set up a lunch meeting to learn more about them and their work. When it comes to asking those busy, influential people in your industry to meet with you, think outside the box. They probably get asked to coffee a lot! Offer to take them (your treat) to a decent restaurant for lunch, instead of the tired Starbucks around the corner. When you meet with people one-on-one, it can be a lot less intimidating than in a group setting. Pro tip: Keep track of when industry “heavy hitters” are in your town to speak to increase your chances of meeting with them face-to-face!
4. Give Value Before You Ask for Help
As you’re striving to network with the movers and shakers in your industry, keep in mind that they get asked for favors ALL the time. In my inbox, I get requests from strangers to “pick my brain” several times a week. While I’m flattered to be asked for my advice, I also know that as a coach, if I gave away all my time and expertise for free, I’d go broke! So, one way to get busy people in your network to help you is to identify a mutual benefit. See if there’s anything you can do to help them first. It’s the age-old concept of reciprocity. For instance, you hear someone mention their frustration with a difficult project, ask if you can assist with their problem or help them brainstorm new ideas. They will appreciate your thoughtfulness and be more willing to help you when you ask.
Networking doesn’t have to be so hard. Instead of relying solely on email and social media, make sure you’re taking advantage of the power of face-to-face connections. They can help you achieve your goals much faster than you would be able to if you tried to do it all by yourself.
Leave a comment: What networking strategies have you used to build your business and advance your career?