Being part of a professional network means being part of a niche information hub where you can draw upon and trade experiences, swap leads, source referrals and discover specific information that provides great insight that otherwise you would have been none the wiser to. Networking is not about circulating a room handing out business cards and feeling awkward. It is about communicating (through an array of different mediums) with likeminded professionals who have your best interest at heart. This isn’t because they are selfless people, (although they may well be) rather the more you give in networking the more you receive. That’s the beauty of networking, it’s free, it’s about sharing information and if done correctly, it can push you to heights that otherwise would not of been accessible.
Rules of Networking
There are no hard and fast rules around how you network or what you network for, generally though, networking falls into two categories; professional and personal. Ideally you want to be part of a network before you need to use it, the more you network the larger your network becomes resulting in increasing the information available to you. If you start off networking because you have an immediate need it’s going to be a long and slow process and you’re going to struggle to get the immediate result you require. You can be as hands on or hands off as you choose, like everything else, the more time and effort you put into networking the faster your network and personal brand will grow.
Advantages of Networking
The advantages of networking are endless, if you network effectively you can create opportunities to leverage your career, grow your professional brand, identify business best practices and gain industry insights. As a Human Resource, Supply Chain or Procurement professional you can build a network to identify business opportunities for yourself, on the flip side, as an employer, you can tap into a targeted audience directly through your network to recruit talent into your organisation. Networking provides visibility and insights, enabling employees and employers to make educated and informed decisions. Employers can increase brand awareness, grow a positive company culture and attract top talent. Employees can share their knowledge and showcase professional attributes, becoming a sought after thought leader within their particular industry or profession.
Build your network at work
You can start building your professional network with co-workers at your work now, this is a great testing ground which enables you to witness the benefits of having a network around you. You will see a cohesiveness in the way everyone works together, resulting in a more efficient and productive team and an increased output of work. Executed correctly this should create a collaborative and successful environment, where everyone is able to communicate openly, swap information and ideas and contribute equally. There is nothing quite as effective as having a positive culture where everyone’s buy in and commitment is on par and second to none.
Networking outside of work
Outside of work you should think about different industries and people that you are able to add value to and in turn gain valuable insights that you won’t necessarily get with your existing network. Diversify as much as you can to extend the breadth of your network whilst ensuring you can still reach the depth of relationship required to make it beneficial for you both. You can look at joining existing groups, attend networking functions, online forums or you can create your own network group, calling people to join you. A blended approach will get you the highest return.
As human beings we like to connect with each others on a personal level as well as professional, there is a genuineness associated with this type of relationship with sees relationships grow and strengthen over time and even distance. The key focus of networking is to make you known to whoever it is you’re targeting. Let people get to know you on both a professional and personal level whilst projecting an open, positive and professional demeanour.
Networking isn’t hard but it’s not a synch either, it takes practice and at first you may not be the best conversation starter but remember, networking is based on a win-win outcome. Initially you may feel nervous meeting a complete stranger and telling them about yourself but it’s worth remembering everyone is there for the same reasons as you, practice being friendly, smiling and starting conversations. The more people you speak with the more confident you will feel, going in with a purpose is a good way build up your confidence. Set yourself a target of what you want to achieve by the end of a specific event or date and amend your technique as you learn and grow, before you know it you’ll be a professional networker!