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People are social creatures. Our ability to communicate and cooperate in large groups is part of what’s made us so successful. In the modern world, we form networks of all kinds, whether they’re made of family, friends, or professional connections. But not everyone finds the latter easy, which is why we’re taking a detailed look at how to network.
A professional network can come in handy for all sorts of reasons. Yet when you’re just starting out, it can be hard to know who you should be reaching out to, how big your network should be, and how to get started with networking. We look at all of these points and more.
Networking is something we all do, whether consciously or not. It’s simply the process of interacting with others and developing the connection through the exchange of information. Much like a computer network, data is shared between individuals in the network.
Our personal networks consist of those relationships we rely on for support in some way. This broad scope means that our friends, family, peer group, club members, fellow students, and other close people can all be part of our personal network.
In many ways, our professional networks are the same. They are the connections we meet through work (and related events) that share similar purposes and aspirations, whether it’s learning, exchanging ideas, or advancing our careers.
Networking is the process through which we make and develop these connections. It’s a broad term that can include a variety of formal and informal activities. Effective business networking happens on many different fronts, often, but not exclusively, in a professional setting.
Before we get onto how to network, let’s first look at why it’s important. You’ve probably heard the expression ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ Although a slightly cynical outlook on the subject, it’s true that having contacts in your industry can often help you progress.
There are several reasons why networking is an essential part of your professional life. Although not every reason is relevant to every individual, we’ve highlighted some of the main motivations for networking:
It’s tempting to assume that the more people in your network, the better. And, while it’s true that having more people can increase your access to the benefits of having a network, there is a balance.
Going back to the marketing statistics mentioned earlier, 41% of professionals surveyed wanted to network more but didn’t have enough time. Clearly then, the time you do have should be spent on the people who are most relevant and beneficial to your network.
There are no hard and fast rules for who you should be networking with. It depends largely on the industry you’re working in and your aspirations. However, there are some traits and types of people to look out for:
Ideally, these types of people will have demonstrated their abilities rather than just boasted about them. You want to express your own (and find others who are capable of) entrepreneurial thinking while avoiding those who are focused solely on their own needs. As you learn how to network, you’ll find it easier to know who is worth connecting with.
Again, there’s no exact number you can put on how many people should be in your network. While a wide and varied pool of people to call on can certainly have its benefits, there is a limit to how many people you can maintain strong connections with.
In 1992, esteemed Oxford University psychologist, Robin Dunbar, theorised that there is a maximum number of people we can maintain meaningful contact with. On average, this number is around 150 people. Although somewhat debated, particularly in the age of social media, it’s a compelling theory. It shows that the quality of your contacts is just as, if not more, important than the quantity.
While you should spend time meeting and connecting with a broad range of professionals, you shouldn’t feel pressured to meet a certain number. You’ll see people on LinkedIn with well over 500 contacts, but that doesn’t mean they’re all valuable connections.
Instead, focus on the types of people you want to add to your network. It’s far better to foster meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships than aim for sheer volume.
Before we get into more details on how to network, it’s worth taking a quick look at how things stand at the time of writing. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted us all in numerous ways. The way we meet and greet people is, for the time being, different than before. As such, networking might be slightly more challenging at the moment, although far from impossible.
Much of the advice we outline further down still rings true. However, there are some additional considerations to bear in mind:
Lesser advice on how to network might tell you to just get out there and start talking to people. We know it’s not always that easy, particularly if you’re feeling a bit shy or nervous. Thankfully, there are plenty of steps that you can take to make the process a lot more straightforward.
Although talking to people and getting your name out there is certainly useful, there’s often a lot of preparation that needs to go into such activities. Whether it’s focusing on some of the basic skills, preparing for events, or knowing where to start, there are plenty of things you can do to make your networking more successful.
One of the best places to start when it comes to networking is to work on some of the essential skills you’ll need. Many of these can help across your career as well, making them worthwhile time investments. We’ve outlined just some of the areas you might want to work on:
Whether you’re attending a specific networking event or simply hoping to build connections through your day-to-day, you need to be prepared. The last thing you want to do is encounter a potentially valuable connection, only to fluff your lines or forget to exchange details.
Here are some of the things you’ll need to consider when you’re thinking about how to network:
So, you’ve brushed up on your skills and prepared some of the essentials, but how do you get started with networking? In reality, there are several options available to you. Depending on the circumstances and how confident you are, you may either want to take it slow or jump right in.
We’ll cover some specific examples of networking opportunities further down, but for now, here are some ideas on how you can start networking:
By this point, you’re probably eager to get started with your networking activity. If you’re looking for some inspiration on where you can meet professional connections, we’ve got you covered. Below, we’ve highlighted just some of the networking opportunities you can take advantage of:
Of course, you don’t want to limit yourself to only formal events. If the topic of work comes up naturally in your day-to-day, it can’t hurt to learn more about the people you’re talking with. The beauty of networking is that you never know when you’re going to meet a mutually valuable connection.
So, what do we know about how to network? Clearly, it’s a worthwhile activity that can help you in both your professional and personal life. But it isn’t always easy (we’re looking at you, coronavirus). However, with a bit of know-how, practice, and preparation, you can start making connections almost anywhere you go.
Perhaps the most important aspect to bear in mind is that it’s something that should benefit everyone involved. By listening to other people and building genuine relationships with them, you’ll have no problems growing your network.
To get more information on how you can upscale your skills and network with business professionals, click here
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