The word “networking” gets thrown around in the business world as the magical buzzword for fame and fortune, but getting anyone to give a useful definition of what it means and how to go about it and you’ll run into a brick wall of evasive language and overgeneralizations. You’ll be told that networking is the process of “making connections”, which it is, but that’s the end, not the means. To remedy that and illuminate the “how” let’s take a minute and break down a few ways that anyone can go about building a professional network.
What We’re Actually Doing
Networking is about building professional relationships with people who you can use, and who can use you in return. The most important part of this is that it’s a two-way relationship; you can’t network effectively if you don’t have anything to offer already. A lot of misguided young businesspeople will go around and hand out business cards to random strangers in hopes that someone will randomly “discover” them. This “spray and pray” method is easy, but pretty ineffective. Not only do you miss the opportunity to show your own value in person, but you won’t be able to effectively judge if recipients are worth pursuing. In order to network effectively you need to communicate your worth to an audience that can benefit you in turn.
The internet is an ideal networking tool because of the ease with which you can disseminate information about yourself and that you can gather information about other people. For example you can join a professional network on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+ and pick and choose exactly who you feel you need to get in contact with. You can choose various ways to engage with people, from contacting them directly to simply joining group discussions on forums or social networks. This will put you in contact with other people in your field from all over the world who will happily offer their advice and provide information about opportunities that they’re aware of in their own areas (which is nice when the economy slumps on your end, or you’re fresh out of college).
Building a local network is usually something you’ll do through work, if you’re currently employed. In that case it’s relatively simple. Develop a good relationship with your co-workers, supervisors, and managers, and make sure that they’re aware of your professional background and that you’re aware of theirs. Make tangential connections with them outside of work through Facebook, LinkedIn , or by just swapping personal email addresses. If you leave your job keep in occasional contact with these people to make sure that they remember you exist.
If you’re not currently employed you can get started by looking up and emailing businesses related to your field. Regardless of whether or not they’re hiring, or if you’re qualified for any jobs they offer, simply getting a hold of someone and asking them what it is they do, and what the atmosphere is like there will mark you as a person to be remembered. These people are especially useful to help you break into the professional circle of that particular area because they’ll refer you to other people they know.
Alice Jenkins is a writer, graphic designer and marketer. When Alice isn’t nitpicking her own logo designs she writes about social media and small business branding. Alice writes for PensXpress, a business that specializes in personalized, imprinted pens.