Skip to content

Build your Professional Network the Smart (and Easy) Way

Professional Networking - Nurture new and old relationships for leads, opportunities

There is a cliche that says “it's not what you know, it's who you know.”

Whether you find that quip enlightening or infuriating, there is some truth in it when it comes to your professional life. A solid network of professional references can be the difference between landing the job or client and not. But how do you develop a network that works for you?

You already have one and it's bigger than you think. Your family, your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, your acquaintances are all part of it -- even if you've never thought of them as a network. And don't forget those former coworkers and bosses who serve as references on your resume.

Make a List

The best way to identify/quantify them is to make a list. Go through your phone, your email, your social media pages and and write down their names, as well as what they do. Then think about people you've met through them -- their coworkers you met at happy hour, their sister-in-law you met at lunch. List them, write down what they do.

A word of caution: Don't get carried away. Your doctor isn't a professional reference, nor is your accountant or your pilates instructor.

See, your network is big. And each of those people might know of a job or business opportunity just right for you.

Reach Out

The next step is reaching out. Looking for a new position or to expand your client base? Let your network know. But make sure you're specific and prepared before you starting dialing or emailing. Think carefully about your goals and then state them clearly. Ask if they know of any leads or any companies whose needs align with your skills.

Don't say “I'm looking for a job;” do say “I'm looking for a job in the communications field” or “I'm seeking a new position in accounting.” Being specific can help them hone in on who they know in the same field. And don't ask them for a job or to be a client, but rather any ideas they have on where you might pursue opportunities. Or better yet, simply ask for their advice on where they think you might look for employment or new customers.

Don't think just because they're not in your industry they won't have any ideas for you. Just like your network is big, so is theirs.

And don't be nervous about asking. Yes, it might feel awkward, but people who know and like you want to help if they can, and they might know someone with a need that perfectly aligns. You never know until you ask.

Expand Your Network

If you make your list and feel it comes up short, get out there and meet new people. Local chamber of commerce mixers or Meetup groups are a great place to start. So, too, are the grocery store, gym and post office. Talk with new people you meet, find common interests, talk about their pursuits, share yours. You never know where such a chat might lead.

Most importantly, foster both old and new relationships. Don't do a “drive-by” and ask for advice or leads and then never be heard from again. Be genuine and considerate, and be generous with your time. Check in, catch up, have lunch or coffee.

Nurture Your Network

If you want a network, nurture it. Keep track of key dates or events for your contacts and friends, and drop notes or encouragement and congratulations. Reciprocate. When you hear of opportunities that seem perfect for those in your network, share them.

Most importantly, take your time. Networking can't be rushed. Don't be harried or urgent, but friendly and interested. It takes time to build relationships, so make sure to enjoy your interactions and enjoy the connections.