Guest Post by Geoff Crawley, Chief Networking Ninja, Yournetworkingninja.com
If you want to be a powerful (and fruitful) networker, focus on building relationships. Too many people find themselves wanting to grow their business or change jobs only to realize they don’t know where to start, what to do, or how to network to maximize results and their potential. The most important advice we can offer you is:
Cultivate and build professional relationships before you need them.
Professional relationships should be as important to you as friendships are in your personal life. (If you don’t have friends, you really should!) Cultivating connections are essential to building mutually beneficial and respectful professional support systems.
But, how do you do go about it? Well, you do it in much the same way you would make and cultivate friendships. You work at it.
- Go out of your way to meet others with similar interests and backgrounds as well as those different than you or your business. You will learn from both.
- Search out various kinds of networking groups including groups with members from diverse industries and varying levels of expertise and experience. Try each group several times to ensure a good fit and then cull the ones you’re not comfortable with, but keep at least two you’ll attend regularly.
- Make it a point to meet individually with other professionals.
- There are two kinds of professionals you should cultivate: those in similar and different industries as yours. But, don’t stop there. Meet with people who have both less and experience than you.
Find a Mentor
“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” — Oprah Winfrey. Having a mentor you can learn and seek guidance from is critical to your ultimate success. The most successful among us admit they didn’t do it alone. A mentor can provide support, can hold you accountable to your goals or vision, and can share their own experiences as lessons for you. How do you find a mentor?
- Participating in networking groups and then meeting individually with other professionals is a good start toward finding a mentor. As you get to know others, you might find an obvious candidate to approach about being your mentor.
- Sometimes mentors are right in front of us. Would your boss be a candidate? Is there an experienced professional in your workplace or the community you could ask?
- Don’t be shy about asking, but be reasonable in your expectations. Cold-calling a mentor with whom you’ve had no previous relationship is a lot like walking up to a stranger and asking them to be your friend. It likely wouldn’t turn out well.
Build an Inner Circle
Just like in our personal lives we have a circle of friends to whom we can turn, you should do the same for your business life. Build a tribe, an inner circle, of business friends you trust. This can take time because you should cultivate mutually-respectful and beneficial relationships. Your inner circle will be the ones you call, whether individually or as a group, when you need professional advice. Take the time to forge these bonds before you actually need them and find yourself without them.
Build Your Network Before You Need It
Effective networking is about learning and benefiting from the experiences of others. Building a network before you need it will make you a better professional well positioned to grow your business and expand your horizons. If the day comes when you are ready (or need) to change jobs, you will have a network of relationships to which you can turn for help.