Networking was never as simple as going to manufactured networking events and handing out cards to anyone who will lend you an ear. Making genuine connections is more than just showing up. It’s always about standing out, changing patterns, and engaging with people on an authentic, deeper level.
For people looking to grow their connections, whether from an established network or from a growing one, exactly how to achieve these elements may be a little out of reach. That’s why we’ve put together a list of seven ways to think outside of the box, and explained why they work to expand networks and deepen your connections.
So, what makes a successful professional network? And how does a person build, and then maintain one? Let’s take a look.
What Does it Mean to Connect and Expand your Network?
To put the upcoming tips into context, it’s worth going over what successful networking, or even a successful network itself, looks like. What makes a network powerful is its connections; the specific connections you need will depend on where you are in your career.
If you’re fresh out of business school, you might be looking for a mentor and your first job or internship. If you’re changing industries or looking for an opportunity at a higher level, you’ll be looking for people in your target company or role to learn from and connect with. If you’re networking to find customers for your new business, again, you’ll be looking in slightly different places and for slightly different things. The point is, that the specifics are down to your circumstances.
However, regardless of what you’re looking for specifically, there are some key principles to your network and your networking efforts that you’ll be relying on to succeed. You’ll need to expand this network, and you’ll need to fill it with high-value contacts. Here are some of the things that are common in any successful network:
Efficient use of time – Networking should take up a significant portion of your time. Depending on the method and desired outcome, it may take 8-10 hours a week. However, this doesn’t mean that simply putting in the hours is enough. If you’re following the wrong path or don’t have a strategy at all, that time is wasted, and you’ll never expand the network with the right connections.
A successful networking effort, therefore, needs to be efficient and targeted appropriately to your needs. With the right approach, you’ll set yourself up to connect and expand your network in a way that best makes use of your time.
High-value contacts – Again, this is an issue of quality over quantity. Tied into the previous point, a successful network is one in which the connections are actually useful. It’s no good having a packed address book with contacts that you’re continually checking in with but have no relation to your end game at all.
If you’re efficient in your networking efforts, you’re going to be familiar with how to target the connections that can provide the mutually beneficial relationships you’ll need to succeed.
Wide reach multi-channel approaches – There are so many options when it comes to venues for networking. Virtual spaces, social media, and other online alternatives to traditional networking events are excellent options in the modern working world.
Still, a successful network doesn’t rely on any of these as a principal focus; instead, reaching the right people at the right time involves mixing up the avenues and taking advantage of each of them to supplement the others.
Learning – one of the specific characteristics of a successful network is the educational value the contacts provide. Every strong network is a melting pot of ideas and opinions, as much as it is a dendric branch of opportunities. Networking is a relatively vague and long-term approach to professional success when compared to, for example, simply applying for a job.
The benefits are less tangible and immediate, and they cover a lot of bases, so a successful network is one in which useful information and exchanges are cultivated and encouraged.
True connections – To achieve these benefits, there’s a necessity for real connections to be formed. Networking is a professional endeavor, but it’s rooted in social principles, and this is what makes a successful network so effective.
While you may find that everyone at a networking event is there for the same, self-serving reasons, the ones who come home with the most valuable connections are those who know how to win friends and influence people. So, the best networks are comprised of people who connect on a personal level.
Creating value – Finally, the essence of any successful network relates not to what you expect to get out of it, but to what you’re able to put into it. Value is a subjective concept, and unique to everybody. From putting a smile on someone’s face in the park to referring them straight to the C-suite at their dream company, there are countless ways to add value, and a successful network is built off of all of these.
Networks only succeed as mutually-beneficial arrangements, so your part in a successful network is to create value, with the understanding that this will be reciprocated down the line.
With these fundamentals understood, there are some very common ways that people go out and try to achieve them. However, we’re going to show you how to expand your network using some of the less-common approaches that you may not have thought of yet.
Seven Unusual Tips on How to Expand your Network
Now that you understand some of the most important goals of your networking efforts, it’s time to take a look at some of the ways you can go about achieving them.
All of the following tips help expand a network, but they also help to strengthen the connections you make. From planning to follow-up, we’ve got seven pointers to give you:
This might be the most obvious pointer on the list, but it’s also one of the most critical. You may have a loose plan in mind, or you may have no idea where to start, but you’re going to want to know exactly who you’re looking for and why you’re doing this before you set out.
A good networking strategy involves some serious mental preparation, not only around whom you’re looking for, but how to find them, how to add value, and how to manage them once you’ve got them.
This is the stage where you plan the most efficient use of your time and design your multi-channel, value-adding outreach. As you get better at networking, you’ll have more information regarding what to expect from each push, and this will help you make your strategies even more efficient.
2. Practice your stories
Since networking efforts follow basic socializing principles, one of the strongest things you can do in your preparatory work is to practice telling stories. You’re going to want to know the history of the project you’re selling inside-out; whether that be your dream roadmap to professional success or the origin story of the current startup you’re looking to fund.
Whatever it is, get your facts straight (don’t embellish!) and do your best Taxi Driver practice runs in the mirror before you try them live. Figure out how to market a story in a way that keeps people engaged while you’re telling it, and, if necessary, work on sounding more enthusiastic and confident in what you’re saying.
Stories should have an establishing stage, a challenge that was overcome, and an appeal to emotion, so try to learn your tale with these factors in the right order. This will create a memorable image in the minds of your audience and deepen connections immediately.
Telling stories well is a learnable skill that sets you apart from those who just offer crude information. Much like a catchy tune, a good story will stick in people’s heads, and the charisma benefits from being a good storyteller will also boost your reputation.
3. Aim High
We’ve mentioned before that it’s a waste of time trying to network above too far your status, and it’s much more important to work your way up organically. This is true, for the most part, but when considering the cost-to-reward ratio of the effort you want to put in, there are exceptions.
Dropping a quick email to the head of an organization to thank them for a good experience may only take five minutes. Chances are, it’ll fall on deaf ears, but factor in a few of these every couple of months, and you may one day get a response. Consider it a little bit like a lottery, but be prepared to win.
If you’re a content creator – more on this in our final tip – you should have your links in your signature and it may only take one heavy hitter following your page to significantly boost your presence in the industry.
4. Communicate across platforms
One way to immediately boost engagement is to jump from an email into a phone call. Let’s say you’ve just received a follow-up call or a request for information in your inbox. You see it pop up and there’s a direct line in the signature.
It takes people by surprise and greatly boosts engagement to contact people directly. Replying to an email with a phone call brings a personal touch, helps cultivate those real connections, and creates value across multiple channels.
Always prioritize the most personal approach. If you can have this email discussion over a coffee, do that. The more senses you occupy in your audience, the more memorable and valuable the interaction becomes. This means video calls if you can’t meet in person, voice calls if you can video call, and so on.
5. Make use of teambuilding principles
In psychology, arousal is defined as the state of being physiologically alert, awake, and attentive. These are all the characteristics of someone who will remember you well and form a deeply-rooted connection with you.
If you can inspire this sense of arousal in your meetups, you’ll be building powerful connections in no time. If you’re running the event, consider breaking the mold and setting up some physical exercises or challenges to overcome as a medium for bringing people together and stimulating this state of arousal.
Nobody expects a collaborative poetry session or a game of Chinese whispers at a networking event, and that’s what will make it stand out. While it’s running, there are still plenty of opportunities for networking, and you’ve broken the ice by putting everyone in the same position of uncertainty and surprise.
6. Speed Networking
When it comes to efficiency, there are slow and steady approaches, and then there is speed networking. Consider adding this to your repertoire as a great way to cut to the chase and make first contact.
Speed networking should be used with a full understanding of what it is and what it is not. Use it to its advantage of meeting people quickly, but don’t forget it’s a means to an end, and the follow-up from these first contacts is where the value is truly created.
7. Use the Slow Burn
The complementary approach to speed networking is the organic expansion of your networking content. Many people consider the overt styles of networking long before they realize that they can be adding value to people they’ve never even met yet.
A regular supply of valuable content on pages like LinkedIn or Medium is a great way to build a library of informative networking content that ticks the boxes of adding value, setting yourself up as an authority in the industry, and channeling high-value contacts your way.
At the very least, a well-maintained blog goes a long way to presenting yourself well to your audience and helping your contacts find you. At best, it’s a reference for any first contacts you make to look you up and get to know you.
Consider your content creation a slow and organic way of growing your network, and contribute some of your networking budget to this every week.
How to Maintain Your Network and Upgrade your Life
These approaches are not meant to be taken as mutually-exclusive tips. On the contrary, they’re designed to work together as an overall networking drive to boost the number and value of your contacts and hit your professional goals.
As such, implementing them is the first stage of how to expand a network; the next is how to keep those connections hot and how to nurture them to the point of your own value objectives.
How you follow up and nurture your connections is going to determine how long they last and how much you can get out of them. These stages are where you really get to add value and push your connections further. Here are some of the simple ways to do this:
Follow up quickly and in brief – if you’ve made a new connection, don’t leave them too long to get cold. Follow up with a brief email to cement the relationship, preferably within 48h. It doesn’t have to be complex or long; just thank them for the introduction, ask or answer a question and provide links to your content.
Remember where you left off – Checking in with people shouldn’t involve asking the same questions you’ve asked before. If they were about to graduate the last time you spoke to them, ask them how it went in your connections.
Contact them when you don’t need anything – don’t make each outreach about you. Simply checking in keeps the connection warm, and prevents you from developing a reputation as someone who only shows up when they want something.
Use a CRM – this becomes more necessary as your network grows. A good CRM like Dex can help you with many of the above tips by keeping track of when and how you connected last and giving you reminders to keep in touch. It can integrate with your various platforms and consolidate your contacts into an easy-to-manage dashboard from which you can keep track of everyone and reach out when necessary.
Again, each of these pointers should be used together to create and nurture the most valuable connections to you.
Now you should know how to connect and expand your network, as well as how to keep fostering strong connections with your existing professional network. Making deep connections is about breaking the standard patterns of business interactions and creating an environment that promotes engagement and attention.
To get there, it’s important to plan well, think outside the box, and make use of multiple approaches and platforms to build your networking strategy. From there, all you have to do is follow basic principles such as adding value, making sure to teach and learn, and fostering authentic relationships by showing that you personally care about the individual.
With all these factors in play, your network is bound to expand and deepen with stronger relationships you form.