How to Grow Your Professional Network Like a Boss
OF COURSE networking is uncomfortable. Who honestly wants to walk into a crowded room of seemingly put together, successful professionals and overexaggerate on all of your best qualities to get them to like you? It’s an exhausting, vulnerable process that we all wish was easier, but whoever said “networking is key” wasn’t lying.
Though it may be a bit awkward at first, there are a variety of networking tactics that will grow your professional circle, allowing you to make a name for yourself while creating a trustworthy brand presence.
Strap up your best high heels and straighten your bow tie, because I’m about to teach you how to grow your professional network…like a boss.
A great way to start getting your feet wet in the networking world is through social media.
1. Follow people in your ideal demographic on social media: decide the age, gender, occupation, and established network of people that you feel could boost your own network and start following them on social media. Follow all of them.
2. Engage with the accounts that speak to you: Get to know the people that you follow and begin to like and comment on their posts in a thoughtful, genuine manner. Gain the trust of the accounts that you follow by building virtual relationships and making a name for yourself.
3. Ask the humans behind your favorite business accounts out for coffee or a drink! Once a relationship is established, of course. And, I don’t mean you need to have a solid connection and budding friendship, I just mean that you don’t want to be a random name popping into everyone’s DMs asking to meetup for coffee. Actively engaging on their account will ensure that they recognize your name and are more likely to accept your invitation.
Once you’ve established a few social media relationships with people outside of your immediate circle, begin to date around. Fill your calendar up with coffee dates and wine nights, beginning to put faces to Instagram handles. Some acquaintances may turn into friendships, creative collaborators, or business partners. Some may only be useful for podcast recommendations and some may just not work out at all. Either way, going on blind business dates is a perfect way to expand your professional circle and utilize the knowledge around you.
Send thank you emails for coffee dates. Send “Nice to meet you” emails to connections made at networking events. Keep connections you made in months past up-to-date on your current whereabouts.
Following up with your network is key to creating and maintaining those well-earned relationships. Listen, no matter how uncomfortable and pesky it feels, if you want to create the connection, you are going to have to be the one to follow up. Keep an Excel document of connections you make and be sure to maintain the relationship by establishing communication norms from the start.
You may decide that you always send thank you emails the night of the meeting. You made decide that it feels more comfortable to send “nice to meet you” emails a few days after the event. Either way, decide on a communication pattern that feels most comfortable to you and stay consistent in your method. Soon, you will get into a groove and watch your network grow before your eyes.
As you begin to build your network, it is important to spend your free time going to events hosted by local small business owners and influencers. The more that you are seen as a supportive member of the community, the easier it will be for you to connect with others on a deeper level.
Take the opportunity to go to events outside of your realm of knowledge—maybe an art show or wine tasting.
“I like to switch my events up and attend those I normally wouldn’t consider. This way, I can exchange knowledge with others outside of my direct industry and gain new insights.” – Lindsay Nahmiache, Founder and CEO of Jive PR & Digital and contributing writer at Forbes.
If you’re in Cleveland, look into organizations like Your Local Girl Gang Cleveland and Creative Babes Cleveland as well as business owners like Arastasia Photography and Muse Room, all who host frequent events geared towards people like you who are willing to step out of their comfort zone. Each event is designed to make you as comfortable as possible while providing a room full of passionate, driven individuals to chat with. All you need to bring is your bubbly personality and creative charm—the events will take care of the rest.
Not sure you have time in your schedule to devote to attending networking events? Keep social media at your fingertips and to show support for local community members any chance you get. Buy a new t-shirt from your local boutique and tag the designer in a picture. Hire a local branding company to create a logo for you and share a testimonial on your feed. Showing support for your community comes in many shapes and sizes—find a method that feels most comfortable to you!
When I went to my first ever networking event, hosted by Your Local Girl Gang, it was super important to me that I had business cards to hand out to connections. Why? Because I wanted to feel as important as the ladies with established businesses. Even if your first cards are basic and to the point, having them on hand at networking events will make you feel at ease for the time being.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep your LinkedIn, portfolio, and business cards up to-date with your most current information. There is nothing worse than handing out a beautiful business card that sends your newest business connection to an un-updated LinkedIn site. Or, vice-versa—don’t be the person handing out old business cards with irrelevant information.
Make sure that you keep your physical and digital credentials up to date so that your new connections remain wowed and eager to get to know you and learn more about your qualifications.
The good news is that there is not one right way to grow your professional network. Networking is a skill that takes practice and time to get the hang of. So, begin with one of the techniques above and move at a pace that feels comfortable for you. Whether you’re quick to make connections or one to establish solid relationships, you’ll begin to grow your professional network in ways you never thought imaginable.
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