In corporate America, your rise to the top can be determined by a host of contributing factors such as your passion, drive, determination, intelligence, self-discipline, quick wit – just to name a few. Although these traits can significantly contribute to your overall success, not having a strong, well-rounded professional network can inadvertently stagger growth in your professional life. I know you’ve heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Well, it’s true. Having a strong professional network of like-minded individuals, with a shared interest, will dramatically improve your chances of success over time.
So, how can I build my network? You have to get out and meet new people, make meaningful connections and nurture the relationships you build. For some, meeting complete strangers and building relationships can be intimidating. Even the best have struggled at doing this.
Here’s a list of seven tips to help you grow your professional network like a Pro.
7 Successful Tips to Grow Your Professional Network Like a Pro
Greet people with a firm handshake and a friendly smile
Make sure your smile is the first thing a person see’s when meeting you for the first time. Be loose, laugh and above all – be yourself. Keep in mind, greetings differ by region and people. For example, some European’s greet by kissing one or both cheeks. It’s a gesture of friendliness and companionship. Likewise, when greeting people of Chinese descent, it is proper to have the front of your business card facing the person. Hold your business card with both thumbs, towards the middle of your chest and bow while extending your card forward. Being knowledgeable of cultural norms will serve you well when meeting people from various areas of the world.
Conversations should take place organically. It’s alright to nudge the narrative in a direction you feel is better served to you but if you are too aggressive, you will come off disingenuous, and that’s not okay. Instead, make good eye contact, engage in discussion and show a concerted interest in both the person and discussion.
Don’t stand too close
Don’t intrude on a person’s space by standing too close. It just comes off creepy. A good rule of thumb is to allow enough room between you and the person you’re talking to, for another person to join in the conversation.
“Networking is about building relationships. The best interactions with people are the ones that happen again.”
We all love to talk about ourselves, our family or pets but let’s face it; sometimes we overdo. When networking, this can be irritating to the people you are connecting with. To get the conversation going, ask questions that have a purpose and show a genuine interest in the answers. What’s key is you want to find out what the other person specializes in and how your skills, or services, can potentially serve a need and vice versa.
If you want to grow your professional network and make meaningful connections, be willing to help your contacts by providing your expertise to a help request or question. Express this gesture of goodwill in a way that is genuine. People appropriate acts of kindness and you will be top of mind should they need your services or expertise in the future.
Have your information ready
There will come a point in the conversation where you will be asked for a business card. Make sure you have professional paper business cards handy or a digital business card app. A business card legitimizes who you are, conveys the services you offer, and provides a means for people to remember you after a first meeting while providing contact information.
Follow up with your contacts
After exchanging your information and collecting a host of contacts, all your efforts will go down the drain if you don’t stay in touch. Send a thank you email the following day. People appreciate the positive feedback. Also, send your contacts happy birthday salutations, a congratulation when they receive a promotion, or links to interesting articles – little things to keep you top of mind.
Networking is about building relationships. The best interactions with people are the ones that happen again. Get in the practice of utilizing calendar tools such as Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendars, to schedule follow-up meetings to reconnect. By building a strong professional network, are positioning your with strategic partners with a shared interest in your success.