Networking has an immensely powerful for boosting your career, yet getting started can be intimidating. For many, networking is a foreign and uncomfortable concept in the beginning.
Even so, knowing how to find and keep valuable contacts, and how to nurture them to a mutually-beneficial relationship is key to successful relationships building. Particularly in early business ventures or when pivoting careers, a strong network is a necessary contributor to future success.
But how do you get started? In this article, we’re going to try and demystify the principles of networking and provide networking tips for beginners on various stages of the journey.
What is the Purpose of Networking?
Whatever your industry, a strong network is your guide through your professional life. The ability to network brings with it tremendous advantages and shapes your future in the level of success you achieve.
Networking is about forming meaningful connections with other professionals with the means to open up new business opportunities for each of you, as a way of mutually-beneficial arrangements. This means that whether you’re an MBA grad or the founder of an NGO, the people you network with will be the ones who provide you the stepping stones to your goals.
Networking comes in many forms, but several fundamental necessities apply to each of them. Someone networking for mentors online may be using a different strategy than someone trying to find customers for their startup in the local community, but the principles are the same: strive to form genuine bonds with people and add value to their lives.
The return on your networking efforts therefore often comes indirectly, as a reciprocation of your generosity and helpfulness. This reciprocation, as time goes on, will necessarily illuminate new paths to follow in your career, whether that be from job opportunities, high-value customers, or sage professional advice.
If you’re not sure how to go about building your network, now is the time to start thinking about it.
Why Building a Network from Scratch Really Works
It’s not easy to jump into a complex network, though it can happen. Usually, though, it’s a much simpler and more effective practice to build your own network organically, from scratch.
Since networking follows a somewhat exponential increase principle, or technically, the square of the number of users, each additional person in the network increases the links in your network significantly more than simply by the number of people added.
What this means is that to get from one person to a thousand, you don’t have to take on a thousand new networking attempts; each new link will provide valuable new ones in turn, and the more people you get onboard, the faster your network will grow.
Networking from scratch involves setting down some groundwork, reaching out, supporting and adding value, and learning as you go. This learning process is another reason building from scratch is the most effective networking process. As you go, you’ll get better at making these connections and the bonds you make will become more genuine and valuable.
You’ll also get much faster at identifying and connecting with high-value contacts and be better at knowing where to find them. Organizational skills are equally important in building a strong professional network, and these will necessarily improve as your network scales.
So, building a network from scratch will allow you to learn and improve the skills you need to grow it in the future. From here, you’ll have deep connections with people from all over the world, and all of the potential opportunities that come with them.
Networking typically follows a step-by-step process and is a very calculated way of making social connections. These steps are as follows:
Plan – All of your networking efforts will be significantly less effective without a long and intelligent planning process. This is the stage at which you’ll identify your goals, decide on your roadmap to reaching them and identify where to look for your network.
Engage – This is when your efforts go live. Whichever strategy and plan you’re following, this is where you put it all to the test and push towards your goals.
Follow-up – After contacts have been made, this is the practice of keeping the connections warm and reaching out to strengthen them.
Nurture – From here, you’ll simply be checking in at the right times, looking to connect people or otherwise add value, and nudging them towards how they can be valuable to you. Of all the stages in networking, this is probably the one that takes the most practice.
But how do you go about all of this? Next, we’re going to go over some of the most useful tips for how to start networking, and describe and explain some of the terminologies too, to get you off the ground.
Networking Tips for Beginners to Get a Head Start
There are a bunch of ways to find the people you will need, and we’ll touch on some of them in the next section, but by now you’re probably looking for a good place to start. So, this section will be more focused on how to get a head start in your networking efforts at the beginning.
We’ve compiled three tips to give you a boost.
1. Start with a Networking Strategy
As you are beginning, you’ll hear terms like “networking strategy” and “networking plan” and you might wonder what they are and if there’s even a difference.
A networking strategy defines your desired approach to networking based on your goals and your capabilities. If you’re just getting started, figuring out your strategy is the place to begin, and this will give you a massive boost down the line.
Defining your strategy means knowing the reasons you’re embarking on this networking journey in the first place. You need to think about what you’re looking for, and how you picture it coming about, and from there you can move on to how to go about it.
If you’re looking to branch out as fast as possible to the widest range of contacts, an online strategy might be best. If you need a more personal connection with fewer people, you’ll definitely want to make use of the deeper connections that you can make with face-to-face networking.
Either way, these are examples of a networking strategy that should set you up in the right mindset to identify the waypoints on your roadmap to these goals. This roadmap is what you might call a plan.
2. Build a Networking Plan
For the finer details of your strategy, you’re going to want to plan out each stage. Remember those four stages of networking we mentioned earlier? The nature of those is all determined by your strategic goals, and the details are all laid out in your plan.
So, whether you’re looking to grow your startup quickly or find a job in your dream role, you’ll want to finish your overall planning stage with the details of how to accomplish this. Easier said than done, perhaps, but you’ll soon pick it up.
From the information you compiled in your strategy, you’ll be able to identify who your ideal contacts are and where to find them. So, you’re ready to start planning where you’re going to meet them and how you’ll choose to do it.
You’ll also be able to identify what makes them a valuable contact, how you can provide value to them, how many you want to connect with, and how you’re going to manage these connections down the line.
In essence, this plan will cover the ‘hows’ of your gathering, nurturing, and progression elements of your networking efforts in a way that fosters trusted connections. Our third tip
3. Find Good People
When you do get out and about, you’re going to want to know whom to look for. This tip is really a breakdown of the previous stages and is mostly about finding the right people; those who are high-value in your circles and who have some fundamental qualities that typically make them good people to know.
You want to find people who facilitate your progress toward the goals you outlined in your strategy. This begins with a simple understanding that networks are what make the work go around. Nobody is ever really self-made, and the myth that these people exist can hinder networking efforts for anyone who believes it.
Instead, all success is built off the back of collaboration, cooperation, and the benefits of a good network. As such, for you to find the right people, you have to know how to contribute. Networking should never be one-sided, so finding good people is as much about contributing as it is about knowing when to stop.
Finding people who inspire you, teach you, and align with your goals should be the number one priority when identifying traits to look for. From these high-quality individuals, you’ll be able to switch the balance away from the passive receiver of your own life, to someone for whom life happens.
If these three tips don’t cover enough detail, we’ve got some specifics for you below that might help speed things up a bit.
How to Start Building your Network Fast
We’re going to go back to the planning stage again and help suggest some finer skills to apply to your first network. The first is all about setting the bar.
Have Realistic Expectations
You’re probably going to make some mistakes when you first get going, and the networking world isn’t quite as you’d imagined it to be. But you can skip a lot of these mistakes by calibrating your sights well, to begin with.
You may have lofty goals, but if you’re fresh out of college and you don’t know anyone, that means nobody knows you either, and you’re not a high-value contact for anyone yet. So, don’t go looking to connect with the top brass at your first outing. You’re going to want to work your way up.
Similarly, set standards for how valuable you need your first connections to be. It might not be much good getting chatty with the staff at a local library if you’re trying to break into banking. Set upper and lower thresholds that align with the reality of your situation and give you the best shot at success.
This is another pretty subjective thing and will be determined by your specific situation, but you’re going to want to have something of value to present your people with. If you don’t have much in the way of a professional backing yet, there are still plenty of things you can bring to the table.
You can connect people to one another. Acting as a hub of connectivity is a great way to boost your reputation in networks and get your name recognized. You can also work on being positive, charismatic, and genuine, and simply present a trustworthy and generous demeanor that will add positivity to people’s days.
Don’t Just Give
This might seem like an obvious one, but again, networking is about balancing the give with the take, and if you’re so focused on the former, you may not be optimizing the latter. If you’re the most valuable person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
You should always be striving to learn something from your network, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and be humble about what you don’t know.
Your relationships are only as good as the work you put into them. As your network grows, you’re going to have to take active steps to maintain and nurture them.
In meeting people, work on your social skills like generosity, listening, and compassion, and in your follow-up and nurturing stages, make sure to check in, update and interact with people at the right times to keep the relationship going in the right direction.
One great way of doing this is to use a contact relationships manager like DEX. Dex is a CRM software that helps you keep track of all your contacts in the same place.
Not only that, you can see where your last conversations left off, keep an eye on important dates and events, and sends you alerts when it’s time to make contact.
Looking after your network is the part that’s most easily neglected. Yet, it’s the only way your contacts are going to be around when you need them, so plan ahead and make sure not to undo all your hard work by neglecting people!
Where to Look to Grow Your Network Fast
Finally, we’re going to give a brief overview of some of the networking outlets at your disposal.
There are quite a few different places you can look for your contacts, but here are three you might think of to start with:
Networking Events – These might seem like the most obvious already. Colleges and other organizations often throw networking events specifically designed for you to pick up like-minded people.
Direct Email – If you’re looking for someone, in particular, you might be able to send out an email or two and ask for a meeting. This is a good strategy if you’re trying to break into an industry and want a mentor.
Online – The applications for online networking are huge. For almost every type of network, there’s a way it can help. Facebook and LinkedIn offer great networking chances for those savvy enough to use them right and can vastly extend your network in a short amount of time. However, they’re usually not great to use as a stand-alone networking strategy simply because face-to-face meetings are so much more memorable and meaningful in many cases.
There are plenty of other places to look, and you’ll be rewarded for mixing it up a bit, but make sure to sit down and think clearly about the strengths and weaknesses of each approach before you go into it.
Factoring all of this into your planning stages will save a lot of hard work and fine-tune your networking approach to really give you a head start in growing your new network.
By now you should have an idea of how to start networking and have hopefully understood some of the reasons why building a network from scratch is such a powerful path to success in your professional life.
The keys to networking well in a professional context are mainly the same as those you need to have a strong social network: be genuine, be giving, and check in with people when the time is right.
The details are much more involved and depend on your specific circumstances. Still, forming a strong plan for how you’re going to go out and find the best people for you is the major factor in how strong your network will be.
Then, it’s just a matter of keeping track of your new network!