Let’s face it; if you want to succeed in business, you need connections. And while many people believe that only the privileged have connections to help them get ahead, that’s not the case.
With professional networking, you can make those all-important connections and help propel your business or career to the next level.
But what is it?
What Is Professional Networking?
Professional networking is the act of building relationships based on trust with other professional people to help you reach your goals. Once you build the relationships, you will reinforce them and then maintain them for years.
Many people believe that professional networking is nothing more than exchanging business cards with as many people as you can in a professional social setting. But that’s not how it works.
Instead, it’s a deliberate act of building trust-filled relationships with others so you can each benefit and support each other’s goals.
Why Should You Engage in Professional Networking?
People attend professional networking events for many reasons, and most of them revolve around improving your career or business opportunities.
Here are some of the most common reasons people participate in professional networking:
The Subtle Benefits of Professional Networking
There are other benefits of professional networking that aren’t as obvious. Professional networking can help you launch a business, further your career, and develop connections that could benefit you in the future.
Here are some other, not-as-obvious benefits you will experience when professional networking.
Seeing things differently
When you socialize with other professionals from your field, you will hear a lot of opinions and theories that may differ from your own. And having that different perspective could cause you to think about things in another light.
Who knows? You may see things differently enough to revamp or pivot your business for higher profitability.
Excellent business advice from an established professional is hard to come by. But if you’re part of a professional networking circle that includes some greats from your industry, you can build relationships with them and talk about the things necessary to your business.
Just remember that in a viable networking relationship, it’s crucial that you give as much as you receive. Don’t overwhelm others with a constant need to take without reciprocating.
Build it up
Ask any successful business person what the most essential trait is, and they’ll most likely say confidence. When you’re confident in your ability and business idea, you’ll probably go far.
But isolating yourself or surrounding yourself with people you know won’t help build that confidence. But professional networking can. As you interact with others in your field or industry, you will gain confidence — and that will often translate to success.
Now that you understand the benefits of professional networking, are you ready to learn how to participate in this life-changing activity?
Let’s talk about that now.
10 Tips for Professional Networking
Professional networking is only successful if done right. Don’t just enter a networking event, start passing out business cards to anyone and everyone, and expect results. No, to succeed at professional networking, you have to approach the task like a pro.
Here are 10 tips to get you started.
1. Get your style on
Not everyone approaches professional networking in the same way. And to be successful at it, you will need to determine your own style. For instance, some people do better networking on social media, while other’s love the one-on-one interaction that happens at a networking event or in a small group.
Think about your personality and determine which type of professional networking event you would feel most comfortable at.
2. Don’t card them to death
What’s the sign of an amateur networker? Someone who goes from person to person in a room and hands out their business cards. And all the while the other person is talking to them, they’re looking over their shoulder for the next victim.
Instead of obnoxiously handing out your business cards to everyone who didn’t ask, concentrate on making connections with people. And then when you make one, ask for their card. If the connection is real, they’ll ask for yours in return.
3. Make it real
Speaking of making connections, as you speak to people in the room (or online), be sure to present yourself as someone interested in making long-term connections. Too many professional networking people are only interested in making quick connections to help them with an immediate project.
But professionals can usually spot those type of people, and they avoid them.
Professional networking is a long-term process, and if you do it right, the connections you make will be a part of your world for years to come.
4. Think two-way street
The benefit to great professional networking is that people can do things for others that they can’t do for themselves. For instance, one networker may need to hire a professional but is having trouble locating just the right person. But their connection may know someone who would be perfect for the job.
But for this process to run smoothly, both parties have to be willing to give. If someone does you a favor, be sure to pay it back somehow. You can do this by providing them with something they need, or if they don’t have any immediate needs you can help them with, offer to take them to lunch.
Word will quickly get around that you’re not only looking out for yourself.
5. Don’t ask that
Imagine this: you’ve just met someone, and within a few days, they ask you for a huge favor. Would you be suspicious of that person or even feel a little irritated? That’s how most professional networking pros feel when a newbie comes along and starts making immediate requests.
Remember, your goal in professional networking is to make lasting connections. Wait until you’ve made those before you ask someone for a favor.
6. Go for the stories
Getting people to talk about themselves is a key to great conversations. When you first meet a contact, ask them some questions about themselves to find out their story. Doing so will not only help forge a connection, but if you have an idea of who they are, it may help you realize how you can help them.
And be sure to tell others your story, as well. Don’t make it a long, drawn-out story that monopolizes their time — remember, they’re there to make new connections, too — but practice making it short and powerful. It’s a great way to show people who you are.
7. Fix their problems — even the next day
Part of being a professional networking pro is identifying your connection’s issues and offering a solution. But don’t make the mistake of telling them you may have a solution and then not following through. If you hear about someone’s problem and think you can offer a solution, be sure to contact them with the information as soon after the event as possible.
For instance, if someone tells you they can’t find an office space for a new location, and you know of a space that may be perfect, email them the information the next day.
This type of pro-active problem solving will help you build a solid reputation among the group.
8. Hook up on social media
Once you’ve exchanged business cards, your next step should be to exchange social media information. Do they have a LinkedIn account? Are they active on Twitter or Instagram? Exchange social media information with them and then follow through by connecting with them on those accounts.
9. Keep an eye on them
One of the best ways to build your reputation as a great connection is to congratulate others when they achieve a goal or hit a benchmark or career highlight. And if you call this to the attention of others in the networking group that’s even better.
Everyone likes to gain recognition for their achievements, and if they know you’re the type of person who cheers them on, you’ll quickly become a favorite.
10. Embrace rejection
It’s natural that you will experience rejection when first starting in professional networking. You haven’t yet proven yourself to the group, or maybe you made a newbie mistake and came on too strong. Either way, you should think of rejection as a learning experience.
And when you learn from your mistakes, it makes you stronger and more able to do it better the next time.
Don’t Make These 5 Professional Networking Mistakes
Along with tips for successful professional networking, you also need to understand how some mistakes can derail your efforts.
Here are five professional networking mistakes you should never make.
1. I didn’t plan for that
You never know when a professional networking opportunity will arise, and that’s why you should prepare for the possibility every day. Dress professionally each day, make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and compelling, and carry your business cards with you everywhere you go.
2. Don't play favorites
If you network with the sole intention of meeting the movers and shakers and ignoring everyone else, you won’t succeed in your efforts. To make a good impression, you should pay equal attention to everyone there, even those who can’t help you.
If you do dismiss or disregard someone at an event, the consequences of it can follow you for years.
3. Never hide behind the screen
Most people take out their cellphones when they’re in an awkward or uncomfortable situation, but that won’t go over well at a professional networking event. Others will view you as unapproachable, disrespectful, or too busy to participate.
As uncomfortable as it is, you are there to meet new contacts and connect with them. Put away the phone and do what you came to do.
4. Resist telling a big one
It’s tempting to exaggerate your importance or name drop people who you’ve never met, but don’t do it. Networking circles are close, and if you lie or exaggerate who you are, it will eventually come out.
And then your credibility and trustworthiness will be forever scarred.
5. Don't be an ingrate
When someone does you a favor, no matter how small it is, be sure to thank them for it. You can send them a quick email or take two minutes to thank them on the phone.
Doing so will reinforce your professionalism and make it likely that the person won’t hesitate to give you advice or do another favor for you in the future.
Professional Networking Can Boost Your Success
If you’re looking for a way to grow your company or find more opportunities, professional networking is a great place to start. But remember, those who are successful at it tend to follow an understood set of rules.
By following the tips listed above — and avoiding the mistakes — you will be on your way to a great professional networking experience.
Do you engage in professional networking as a way to get ahead? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comment section below!