How To Establish A Business Network

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Networking can get you a new job, a new client or simply a new contact. Learn how to network effectively to advance your professional life.

Establishing, building and maintaining a business network is as essential to your professional life as a resume—probably even more so considering that so often a contact is needed to even get a resume noticed.

However, before you can ask someone to get you an “in,” you need to make the contact, build a solid relationship and then work to maintain that relationship. It’s time consuming, but can be very rewarding both professionally and personally. And while it’s easier for some than others, everyone can and must build a business network.

Step 1: Start networking

As with anything else, networking takes practice. There are several ways to get started.

Join a networking group. There’s no end to organizations available to join such as professional associations, groups dedicated solely to networking or online networks like LinkedIn.

Attend industry mixers and networking events. If that sounds too scary, join an organization that corresponds to something you’re interested in. It could be a volunteer organization or a book club, but if it’s near and dear to you then likely it will be easier for you to meet and mingle with those involved.

Speak up. This can be hard, especially for those who are shy. But there are ways to strike up a conversation at an event. Consider these tips:

  • Arrive early. This way you can start a conversation with the few people already gathered rather than having to try to enter one already in progress with a larger group.
  • Come prepared. Bring three talking points that you can easily speak about—something that excites you and likely will interest those at the event.
  • Ask a question. People love to talk about themselves. Ask someone a question about themself and you’ll likely get a great conversation started.

Check out How to Network: 12 Tips for Shy People for more tips on how to break the ice and keys for being a great networker.

Step 2: Build your business network

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Once you’ve made a contact, the next step is to create a meaningful relationship. Approach a professional relationship just as you would a personal one—by taking the time to learn about the person and establishing mutual trust. Invite your new contact to lunch, send an article that might of interest or share useful information.

And be sure to connect with your new contact on a personal level as well. Find out what their interests are after work—you may discover that you share a similar passion for football or calligraphy. Whatever it may be, you’ll be able to bond on another level the more you reach out.

Only after you’ve built a solid relationship with your new contact is it acceptable to reach out with a favor or expect any new business to result.

Step 3: Maintain your network

As with any relationship, you must continue reaching out to those in your network. Technology today helps make this much easier—you can keep in touch via Facebook, LinkedIn and email. And be sure to give, give, give to those in your network: post information about your contact’s business or interests on your website or blog, offer your advice or help with an upcoming project, send a report that you feel would be of interest. By maintaining your relationship and keeping in touch during the good times, you’ll be in a better position to ask for help should you ever need to.

Step 4: Repeat

Congratulations! You have now developed a solid business network. But the work doesn’t stop there. Throughout this process, be sure you are still reaching out to new contacts as well. Networking is a continuous cycle that will eventually become a normal—and potentially rewarding—part of your work day.

Source: Business Insider, CIO.com, CNNMoney.com
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