“Succeeding in business is all about making connections.” – Richard BransonNetworking skills are extremely important at every stage in your career. Being able to network effectively will help you to learn and progress, but how can you start to build a valuable professional network? Well, the online methods can only get you so far if you want to build strong business relationships. While LinkedIn and emails are a great way to keep in touch, they don’t compare to the more traditional face-to-face encounters. Attending conferences, events and meetings are the best ways to make new contacts and to build upon the relationships you already have. Approaching strangers and striking up a rapport isn’t something that comes easy to a lot of people, but don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as you may think. Here’s what to do.
Build your way up
Tackling a room full of strangers may feel daunting right now, but if you can work your way up to challenge you won’t think twice about it. Start locally by working on improving the relationships you already have with colleagues and acquaintances. By making more of an effort to talk and build rapport with them, you’ll build your communication skills and confidence.
Get ahead of the game
If you are attending an event or meeting then it’s worth doing a bit of digging before you go. You may want to ask yourself the following questions:
What do they do?
Who would you like to speak to?
Do you have anything in common with them?
How are you going to initiate conversation?
What would you like to achieve?
You by no means want to turn into a robot, reciting rehearsed lines. However, having a plan of action will help you to enter the room feeling confident and leave it having achieved your goals. TOP TIP: Keep your openings friendly and casual. Jumping in with business talk won’t help you to build a long-lasting relationship.
Once you’ve established a new connection, be sure to keep in touch with them. Sending a quick email saying it was nice to meet them and to hear about their company is a great way to solidify the relationship. It will also open up further communication. If they expressed an interest in working with you when you met but you don’t hear from them, take the initiative and make the first move.
Maintain the relationship
It’s all too easy to meet someone new at an event, build a good rapport but then never hear from them again afterward. Keeping the business connection alive is the part that many people neglect, however, there are plenty of ways to do it:
Email them with an interesting article that you thought they would find useful
Remember personal details about their family, birthdays, holidays etc. and ask them how they are when you speak to them
Share or comment on their LinkedIn or Twitter posts
Be open minded
When building your professional network, try not to discount people that are at the same level as you or that perhaps work in a different field. Everyone has strengths and skills that you can learn from and you never know when they could be a valuable contact in the future. Plus, they may know some people that could be extremely valuable contacts for you.
Bringing it all together
Who you know will have a big impact on where you go in your career. By focusing your efforts on building a great professional network, you’ll see just how valuable having connections can be.
About the Author: CareerExperts is the go-to career advice site for professional development advice, management and leadership innovation and job searching tips. They use their wealth of expertise and experience to help other success-seekers achieve their career goals.