There is no doubt that having a strong professional network is a great foundation for career progression, but it’s sometimes easier said than done. It takes time to cultivate a valuable network of professional contacts and a lot of people struggle to get started.
That is why we have put this ‘how-to’ article together. We will help you kick-start your professional network and begin to expand your contacts in just 7 days. All you need to do is invest in 30-60 minutes each day – that’s it. If you follow our advice over the week you will have made some real headway into building your network and if you’re looking for a new job, have a solid foundation to accessing the hidden job market .
On your daily commute or over your morning coffee, take 15 minutes to think about the two following questions:
Who am I?
Who would I like to connect with?
Answering these very simple questions will help others understand why they need you in their network. Check out this article on how to answer these questions. Write a short paragraph about each and save it for your records, so that you can be consistent when communicating to others.
The paragraph about who you are should include what problems you’re good at solving. It should describe what you are doing now and what you plan to achieve in the future. Be specific!
The paragraph about who you would like to connect with will describe the individuals you want in your professional network. They may be people interested in the same sector, career path, areas of interest – both professionally and for fun. These people will be useful to you and vice versa.
The aim of this exercise is to help you define what you are aiming to achieve, so when you have finished writing these paragraphs you will have a good foundation for growing your network. Now you can consider adding some of what you have written to your online profile descriptions and using them as conversation starters.
Start connecting with people. Now that you know who you want to connect with, start searching for them online and invite them to connect with you. This could be searching and inviting new connections on LinkedIn, following Twitter users and sending a personal @message, emailing contacts to introduce yourself.
Dedicate 30-60mins to do this – and aim to find at least 3 new contacts that look interesting. Once you get the hang of who or how to search for your new contacts, you will become very efficient and can easily start to add 2-3 contacts a day in just 15 minutes. Our member’s coaching platform provides step-by-step videos, templates and scripts on how to do this.
Your message should be about the person you are contacting, and not about you. Keep it short, concise and polite. Don’t ask any favours at this stage – if anything, suggest why it might benefit the other person to connect with you. Here’s a few examples:
“Hi Julie, It was great to meet you at the employability event last week and I enjoyed your presentation. I hope you will accept my invitation to connect on here too! Thanks, Adam.”
“Hello @AndrewG, I follow your blog and really admire your work. I would love to become part of your network. Thanks, Liam.”
“Hey Brian! I heard about you and your work through a friend, and I have a few ideas for how we might be able to work together. If you ever want to meet up to discuss ……… then please do get in touch. Here’s a link to my LinkedIn Profile Thanks, Maria.”
This might sound simple, but letting potential connections know why they should bother connecting with you will make a huge difference.
It’s time to think about what you can offer your professional network. People tend to build relationships with others they think could be valuable to them in the future, so it’s important to showcase your potential.
Today you need to start building your reputation as someone who is talented, helpful, and valuable. How? Now that you have made some connections, show them what you’re accomplishing and learning.
Think about your biggest achievement recently – one that will impress your network. Write a blog post about it or share an article that has inspired you. Post an update on social media about your personal development or ask a question in a group that shows you are eager to learn more.
Arrange to meet people face-to-face. Even just one person. This could involve registering for a networking event, scheduling a meeting with a new contact, researching local industry meet-ups, attending a free course in your area or going to a speaking event. Meet Up is another great (free) way to find people who have common interests.
Inviting new online contacts for an informational interview is also another great way of building a network for the purpose of changing careers or searching for new job opportunities.
There is no substitute for physically meeting people. Online networking can renew and begin relationships but they are strongest when you have met in person. Make sure that you connect with people you meet at the event, online afterwards!
Be helpful. Search for queries that you can help with today. By helping people you wish to connect with, they will be more motivated to add you to their network. Even those in your existing network will be more likely to help you in future to return the favour.
Spend just 30 minutes by taking a look at your online network’s status updates. This is an efficient way to see how you may be of “service” to your network. Respond to a request, share an article, blog or interesting piece of information, like or leave a comment – all of these are a great way to engage with your network.
Listening is the most valuable skill you can have in networking and it’s also the most rewarded. Most people like to talk about themselves and appreciate you taking an interest. It will also help you to learn about people as individuals as well as the challenges they face, and therefore build better professional relationships as a result.
Now it’s your turn to prove that you are not afraid to ask for help. Think of a challenge you are facing at the moment and ask people in your network to help you. You never know until you ask whether others can help, and people are willing to offer advice more often than you think.
In less than 30 minutes, you could write to your contacts, post a request or make the call. Make sure to address any fears or self-limiting thoughts if this is holding you back. The majority of people want to be helpful (don’t you want to be the same?) so you will be pleasantly surprised with the response. It’s always easier to ask for help from the contacts who know you or have interacted with you, so start with these first.
When they respond, make sure you thank them but don’t just leave it there. Even if someone has given you a lengthy answer, read every word and respond in a way that proves you have considered everything they said. Turn it into a conversation. Before you know it, you are building valuable relationships.
Thank people. Promote people. Talk about their successes. Today use everything you have learned over the past 6 days to publically promote people who have taken the time to connect with you in some way. Think about how you could thank them – whether it’s a phone call to recommend someone you met recently, or a public update linking to somebody’s website.
If someone in your network has had a recent win, share it. If they have written an interesting article, comment on it. This is a great way to start building relationships with the people in your professional network and establish your reputation as a good listener who is well connected.
Want to know more? Check the website of Prof. Natalie Wilkins
Prof. Natalie Wilkins, British, is a HR Consultant, Trainer & Coach at VIVA Coaching & Consulting. She teaches the MBA “Empowering your future” syllabus and Leading Change Modules in the Diploma in Sustainable Business at BSL. Natalie has over 15 years of Human Resource leadership experience within complex international organisations, both in the public and private sector. In 2012 she founded VIVA Coaching & Consulting to help individuals and businesses make transformational change. She has trained and been certified with the Coaches Training Institute, qualified in professional and personal development training and psychometrics. Natalie is a member of the International Coach Federation and a Chartered member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development.