Learn How to Network Effectively: 7 Rules for Building Professional Relationships

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Networking rarely makes its way onto a to-do list. You don’t reap immediate, tangible rewards when interacting with people so it’s easy to delay the hard work of connecting with people in your company and industry. The discomfort of meeting strangers may not seem worth the effort it takes to learn how to network effectively.

Fortunately, it’s not as difficult as you think. What we call networking in business was called socializing in college. You do the same thing; it’s just that your clothes aren’t as sexy.

But it is more important than you think.

Networking is the way you link your vision for your business and career to those of the rest of the world. Learn how to network effectively with these 7 rules for building professional relationships. Click To Tweet

Networking is the way you link your vision for your business and career to those of the rest of the world. If you are on track in your business and professional life, you network every day, forging and enhancing connections that will reap future rewards.

As any executive coach will tell you, once you’ve reached the required level of technical expertise in your field, career advancement depends on the professional relationships you build. Steven Rothberg founder of job-search website CollegeRecruiter.com posits that 80% of jobs aren’t publicly advertised. No network? No advancement. You have to learn how to network effectively if you want to grow your career.

Make sure you’re doing this important work well. Here’s how:

1. Contact, Contact, Contact

Three rotary dial phones on a gray wall.

Networking is all about contact- eye contact, face-to-face contact, phone contact, social media contact, e-mail contact. There are so many ways to reach out to people. You just have to do it.

Think of networking as a numbers game. Just as you don’t get an airline upgrade without earning the miles, you don’t have a network to call on unless you put in the time to develop it. You have to do your time in the air before you make it to first class. You have to invest time and energy making connections in order to build a first-class network.

So take four minutes every day to write a note, forward a link, or pick up the phone to follow-up, congratulate, inquire, or whatever. Do this daily (minus holidays), and in a year you’ll have made contact over 300 times.

2. Be The One To Initiate.

Effective networkers look for new contacts and start the conversation.

Keep your eyes and ears open to prospects. Learn to recognize a potential business friend. That person may be at a professional seminar, at a community event, in the airplane seat next to you, at the health club, a friend of a friend, a friend of a vendor, even someone you read about in newspapers or magazines. Whoever it is, take the risk and begin the conversation.

Be human and humorous in your contact. You are building a relationship, not making a cold call.

“But I hate small talk,” people sometimes protest. Then don’t engage in small talk. Talk about things of interest to you and others. You don’t have to be shallow or fake to learn how to network effectively.

One sure-fire way of feeding a conversation is to try to discover what’s of keen interest to the other person, then talk more about that. Offer some helpful ideas. Don’t assume, “Oh, she’s probably already thought of that.” Maybe not. And of course you can steer the course of the conversation by inserting information about your own interests also.

A special note to the “gray” among us – older than forty – make an extra effort to get to know and network with young people. They tend to be more in tune with new trends. In return, you can make the relationship mutually beneficial by providing insights and advice based on your years of experience in the business world.

3. Be Bold.

Be bold when meeting people. Your confidence will set them at ease and help you build a strong network.

Chances are you have some degree of social phobia, or at the very least feel nervous meeting and talking to strangers. Put your fears aside, or at least get them out of the way, and approach the scariest person first. The rest will be a lot easier.

But what if you find your efforts to network stymied by intense shyness or anxiety? Most of the time, you can reshape your behavior and thought patterns to control and overcome shyness. If you are excessively shy, you have to deal with it. Do the hard work of moving past your shyness.

The truest and best way to deal with intense shyness is to understand that others experience it, too. Other people feel just as nervous as you do at times, maybe more so. So if you bravely act first and help those around you relax, you’ll get more out of your time together. This doesn’t mean you need to become a social butterfly to network successfully; but it does mean that you can’t be lazy about making strong, diverse connections on an ongoing basis.

4. Anticipate Discomfort (But Know That You’ll Get Better).

Networking is hard...and uncomfortable. But you will get better with practice!

What is new is frequently uncomfortable. To learn how to network effectively, you will have to endure some awkward conversations. Trust me though, eventually, you will be more at ease, especially when it starts paying off.

Think of networking as a way to improve your interviewing skills. The logic is simple. If you want to become a better actor, act. To become a better writer, write. And to become better at interviewing, interview. Networking conversations are like low-stress, high-impact, self-initiated interviews.

By having lots of these mini-conversations when you aren’t under pressure to land a job, you get better at explaining what you want people to know about you. And the more you do it, the more skilled and focused you become. You’ll be a better networker, and when the time comes, a better interviewee.

5. Expect Acceptance.

You will make more effective connections if you expect people to be receptive.

Believe that you are adequate in this potential relationship. The plain truth is that you are equal to anyone. If you don’t receive acceptance, don’t feel rejected. Remember that the person you’re approaching probably also has a list of prospective business friends he or she hopes to develop. You may not be on that list at this time.

But be patient and persistent. Things change for everyone. One CEO told me, “My rule is to follow-up four times with one individual. Nothing ever happens with just one contact.” What may be a dead-end today, could be an open door tomorrow.

6. Give At Least As Much As You Take.

Effective networking involves as much (or more) give as take.

If you only take, you’ll get a reputation for that, and in time people will avoid you. If you give – especially if you give first, without knowing whether or not you’ll receive – people will be attracted to you.

As a bonus, the more you do to help someone else’s career, the more willing that person will be to help yours. You know the expression, “What goes around comes around.” With technology, what goes around comes around even faster.

I once wanted to use the professional services of an artist I know. I didn’t feel I could afford his top-drawer price, but I wanted his top-drawer work. So I explained that to him. I added, “I know you’re worth it, I just can’t afford it at this time.” Then I volunteered, “I know someone who could use your services. When we finish talking, I’ll call him and suggest that you two meet.” And I did. The second person then called and made an appointment with the artist to discuss some business. Later, the artist called me and said, “Thanks for the introduction. We’re meeting next week. And don’t worry about the price for your project, I’m going to give you what you need for a price you can afford.”

Why not try this technique right now? Think of a couple of people that you know who might benefit from knowing each other. Call them up, and explain that you think so-and-so would be beneficial for him or her to meet.

Practicing giving more than receiving doesn’t just help you learn how to network effectively, it shapes your reputation as someone worth knowing. People will begin to seek you out.

7. Always Respond.

If someone reaches out to you, reach back! Effective networking means initiating and responding. You never know what might happen.

Answer every telephone call, e-mail, PM, and letter. Yes, every one.

These contacts might be someone’s attempt at networking with you, and you never know where it might lead. The Wall Street Journal reports that 94 percent of successful job searches happen through networking. As one CEO said, “You’re only one phone call away from changing your life.”

How do you know when your networking is working?

Your networking efforts are paying off when things happen. People invite you into business meetings or conversations when they don’t have to. They seek you out because they’ve heard of you and your capabilities. Your name gets passed upwards and outwards. You receive calls from people you’ve never heard of inside and outside the company.

The day-to-day work of networking is a solid way to stay connected with your big picture plans even as you take smaller steps toward realizing them. Networking may not seem all that important in the crush of the daily to-do list- until you need a network to call on. Then it may well be too late.

Learn how to network effectively now and relationships will develop that can help you extend and grow your business and career and allow you to help others in the same endeavor. A solid network provides a hedge against the future. In times of challenge, these are the people you’ll call. A network is a safety net. Work to keep yours tight and strong by tending to it every day.

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