For many of us, keeping in touch with our friends and family is natural, as these are the relationships we are most familiar with, and for some, most comfortable. Our personal friends have shared the high and low points of our life. Some have been our trusted advisors who have known the aspects of our life, not shared amongst the masses.
On the other hand, building our professional network could appear to be a challenge for some. For me, it can be compared to farming. I have never driven a tractor or tilled acres of soil, but the process of planting is a good analogy. When planting seeds, in time a crop will grow, but you cannot guarantee the results. You hope for the best, and may even do a few things to improve the outcome, even with the best efforts there are no guarantees it will pay off. However the determination and consistency contributes to the results.
When building your professional network, it will not develop overnight. Hard work and consistency are necessary. I have followed a few basic principles which resulted in building a professional network that continues to prosper and has taken on a life of its own. For example, through my network, I was able to obtain leads on finding two positions and one of them was “career changing”. In addition, my two mentors were obtained from my professional network and provided assistance in key career decisions. The following are some of the basic principles I followed, which I will share.
Building a Network Starts with a Mental Makeover
View your work colleagues, business associates, clients and managers as potential persons to add to your professional network. I suggest framing your attitude to view your network as resources that will help you when needed. We are social creatures and interacting with others, in many cases, is what we do. From the early start, we have learned social skills. Some have excelled while others work with great effort to be social. When building your professional effort, if it does not come easy, work to improve your social awareness or consciousness. View your associates as potential opportunities.
Work to Connect and Provide Information
Using social media to stay in touch is important. LinkedIn has simplified building the professional network because it has provided a level field. Most people who connect on LinkedIn, by default, have identified themselves as people who are looking to connect. By participation they have stated “I am open to connect”. Therefore, using this tool to build out your professional network should be pursued. A word of caution is to connect with people who you know or have been referred to by someone else. Joining specific LinkedIn Groups is also an effective way to build out your professional network. However, providing valuable information to the group will cause others to seek you out as well.
However, not everyone in your professional network is using LinkedIn. Do not underestimate keeping in touch via email. Connecting via a phone call, or inviting to an associate an event can inform your network that you are a “connector”. It says that you have their interest in mind and can build trust.
Know What Motivates Your Network
Each one in your professional network possesses a key. What do they need? What are they looking for? Once you obtain the individual key see how you can help them. For example, since leaving my last job, I have helped almost forty different individuals find new jobs, ranging from a Managing Director at one of the largest global banks to a product manager at a payment technology company. When hearing about new job opportunities I poll my network to assess possibilities and opportunities. Of course, doing this is mainly for the purpose to help others. There may be no immediate financial reward, but it builds loyalty and trust. In a number of those situations, I have benefited with additional business contacts and opportunities resulting in new revenue.
Furthermore, once you know what motivates your contacts, forwarding opportunities about events, freebies, networking opportunities and other similar things informs them that you are concerned about them personally and strengthens the bond.
Know When it is Time to Detach
When the farmer plants the seed, there is an uncertainty that weeds may come to choke out the harvest. Even when building the professional network some contacts may be toxic and should be eliminated from your network. If you see signs of “it’s all about me”, this is a warning to eliminate them from your professional network. It really does not make sense to help others when they demonstrate no signs of reciprocation. Building a professional network requires people share of similar interests who sees the value and opportunities to help others reach an objective.
The professional network is a powerful concept. At times it can take on a life of its own and become a formidable force. I can attest first hand of the power of a professional network. The effort involved is shadowed by the results to connect with individuals who can provide you with business contacts, opportunities and even support.
Written by: Wayne Brown (Founder & CEO of The Walker Group Media – a marketing and business development company serving the financial services and FinTech companies. Our varied market segments helps us to identify synergies and opportunities to stimulate growth as we partner with our clients to build their business. Through our one-on-one CEO Advisory Services, we have helped companies to navigate through key business problems, increase sales, build new revenue streams and gain new customers.)