How to improve your professional networking skills07 Mar 2019
I find it interesting how the majority of professionals believe that networking is important, yet don’t know how to effectively build their own. A 2017 LinkedIn study revealed that 70 per cent of individuals found new jobs at an organisation at which they had connections. However, 38 per cent also said that they find it hard to stay in touch with their networks.
Making and maintaining a network is a skill that you can develop. Here are five ways you can improve your abilities and build a better network.
1. Don’t network
An article all about developing your networking skills, why would my first point tell you not to network? Because going out of your way to advance your network generally gets in the way of doing so.
I’ve often found that if people think about networking as something they need to do, it leads to:
- Inauthentic communication with others.
- Over thinking and stress around networking events or meetings.
- Business relationships with no real depth or worth.
Networking is much more than simply handing out business cards. Some of the best networking happens when you don’t even realise you’re doing it.
Shift your mindset from seeing business networking as something you have to do, to considering it as an opportunity to meet interesting people. Don’t talk to people solely to advance your social connections. Reach out to make genuine connections and friendships. You’ll find that your network grows quickly and is much more easy to maintain if you create authentic relationships with people.
2. Remember that business networking is a two-way street
You don’t go along to networking events to listen to other people talk at you, so avoid doing just that to others. Instead, consider networking as a chance to develop your communication skills. Here are a few ways to do this:
- Avoid entering conversations with a set agenda. Let it develop naturally.
- Show an interest in the other person. Before sharing your own story find out about theirs. Ask open-ended questions to create a better flow.
- Actively listen. Give them your full attention.
- Don’t keep score. You don’t want to try and outdo the other person at every step. Creating a network isn’t about competing.
Consider what you can do to help your new connection out. For example, is there someone in your network that they’d benefit from knowing? Help them meet. Not only does it create more interconnectedness within your own network, but they’ll be more likely introduce you to others in response.
3. Know your purpose
A good business network needs to help you develop in the direction you want to head. However, for it to do that, you need to know what you’re looking for.
I’ve found that people generally want to network for the following reasons:
- Growing their business.
- Opening up new career opportunities.
- Finding a mentor.
- Learning about another field or role that they’re interested in.
- Finding people with the right skills who can help them develop an idea.
Growing your network is important, but having a focus helps you create the right connections. I also think it helps grow stronger relationships. For example, when someone has an interest or agenda that links in with my own, I find I’m much more likely to respond and build a connection with them than if they don’t know why they’re reaching out to me.
4. Follow up
The worst thing I see is when someone forges a strong contact – and then leaves the communication to break down.
Don’t connect with someone on social media and believe they’re now a part of your network. Creating that initial link is only the first step in networking. Making the effort and reaching out to them to continue the relationship is the next step.
If you send them an email to organise meeting again, keep the message concise. Just like you they’re likely busy, so something that’s fast and easy to respond to is more likely to gain an answer.
Make your catch up short. Putting too much time aside can create pressure and is harder to schedule in. A brief meeting is simpler to commit to and still allows you to solidify your connection.
Regularly putting aside the time to reconnect with people is essential to maintaining a strong network. If you don’t have much time to spare, even doing so every couple of months helps.
If you’d like to know more about how ICML can help you with developing your business network, get in touch today.