So, you’ve taken the advice of every career coach, career counselor, and talent manager. You’re building a network.
For review, and the purposes of this article, networking is an ongoing process through which individuals develop relationships with others for mutual benefit.
Now that you have a network, what’s the best way to leverage it?
- Give. If you haven’t already, take a moment to assess your talents and strengths. Make a list of the things you’re good at and the things you love to do. Next, make another list of the individuals, businesses, and non-profit agencies that could benefit from the assistance of someone with your abilities. Than start contacting people. If you are going to want something from those in your network, remember to give first.
- Follow-up. Hopefully you are maintaining a contact database for your network. On a regular, moderate basis, contact people for information interviews or lunch. Send people information about upcoming events, etc. that—because of your understanding of their goals/interests—you’re sure that they would be interested in. Introduce people in your network to other people in your network who have mutual goals/interests or can fill a need. When I added a woman who is a clutter coach to my network, I introduced her to another woman in my network who mentioned to me that she needed to do something with her overgrowing storage. Following up keeps you fresh in people’s minds. If you do it correctly, you’re not a pest; you’re a professional.
- Cheerlead. Support the individuals in your network by reading and commenting on their blog posts, following them on Twitter, showing up to their events. Help spread the word about their businesses. Recommend them on Linkedin. Attend organizational meetings in which you have mutual membership. There are many ways in which you can “show up” and demonstrate your support of what those in your network are doing.
- Strut. Make your accomplishments known. This is not to say you should become a braggart. Find appropriate ways to share your success. Retweet positive quotes people make about you, your service, or your product. Report on how something you’ve done has helped someone else. By having small, public celebrations of your success, you remind those in your network of your value and why they should feel good about maintaining a connection with you.
- Ask for help. After you’ve created a bank of trust, by following the steps above, ask for the help you need. Those whom you’ve helped are typically willing to help you in return. Also, asking people for their insight, expertise, wisdom, connections, and other information makes people feel valued and needed. This is another way to create a bond in your network that is self-perpetuating.
- Say “Thank You.” When you receive help from someone in your network, make sure you thank them accordingly. A big favor, grand advice, or important connection may necessitate something beyond an e-mail. A thank you card, a “shout out” to the person’s business on your social media sites, or a gift card are various ways to consider sending a thank you that’s appropriate to the type & impact of the help you received. Endorsing them in public is another way to say thank you.
Tricia Danielson, Associate Director, Client Relations for Bellevue University’s Human Capital Lab, says that “Networking is not about collecting business cards at an event, or how many “friends” you have on social media sites. Networking is about contributing to the other’s success, as well as requesting help when you are in need.”
By using an “others first” approach in your networking strategy, you’ll be sure to make the most out of your networking connections for years to come.
About the Author: Kim L. Whiteside is a recognized expert known for helping adults develop their professional lives while improving their performance at work. A reliable source for the media, her articles, opinion pieces, and other writings have appeared in a number of national publications. She puts her skills as a certified executive coach (specializing in career coaching) into practice daily in her current role as Program Specialist for the Center for Student Engagement at Bellevue University.