So you have decided to build a professional network, but don’t know where to start? Well the first step is NOT to start sending hundreds of LinkedIn invitations to random strangers. Ok, so where do you start?
In the last post, Is A Professional Network Even Necessary?, we talked about what a professional network is, and why having one is important. If you missed it, check it out now before reading this post further.
To get your network started, make a list of people you know. As this is a professional network, with professional being the key word, be particular about who you place on this list. They should be of good character and reputation. Someone you trust and is trusted by others. Remember this is just a start and that to build your network, you will be relying on this initial list to get you going. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Family and friends
- Known acquaintances of close friends
- Past co-workers
- Former classmates
- Fellow members of professional associations you belong to
- Former teachers, professors or instructors
- Parents of your children’s friends
Once you’ve got your initial list done, establish a prioritization criteria. This criteria will establish how often you want to make contact with each person. For example, a very close network member you may want to touch base with monthly, while another member might be once per year. The criteria may also be based on the importance they hold within your network based on influence, mentoring, gaining new connections. It’s up to you.
Rules of Engagement
Networking can take a lot of time. How much time can you commit? Once you establish your network, people within your network are going to make requests of you for various things. What are you willing to do or what won’t you do? At first you will be reaching out, but in a short time, others will be reaching out to you to connect. Who do you want to connect with? What is your criteria to connect with someone? You should establish your rules of engagement right from the get go. Here are a few things to consider:
- What is the main purpose or goal of your network?
- How much time per week will you spend building your network?
- How much time per month will you spend meeting people within your network?
- What is your budget for networking? i.e. Gas, coffee, lunches, dinners, drinks
- What is your connection criteria?
- Do you have to know them personally?
- Will you insist on a referral from someone you know and trust first?
- What industries do they need to be from?
- What level of experience?
- Any educational requirement?
- Will you provide “recommendations” on social media such as LinkedIn?
- Recommendations are a reflection of you as well. You should never recommend someone if you truly do not endorse them. As such, consider how you will accept some requests for recommendations and not others.
- Will you endorse members of your network for their skills on LinkedIn or other social media?
- How will you handle job reference checks?
- Who will you meet over email or phone vs for coffee or lunch? Who will you meet over dinner?
- How will you handle the tab for a meeting? Will you pay? Split it? Decide in advance or at the meeting?
The First Connections
If you are serious about your network, integrate it into your personal planning routine to ensure that you are scheduling time for it and are taking specific actions to build your network. It will not happen by itself. You will need to work at it and when first establishing a network, it will take a great deal of time, focus and energy to do so.
Using your contact list, go back now and indicate your preferred means of connecting with each person whether it be by email, phone, or face to face. Based on your personal planning, start reaching out. You may decide to send several emails a week to some contacts, calling one or two, while arranging to meet one for coffee in a given week. To make it happen, schedule or plan time to send the emails, have the phone numbers available and again schedule time to call. Predetermine a mutually suitable place to meet that doesn’t inconvenience one person more than the other.
HINT: When planning to meet someone face to face, plan several weeks to a month in advance. Don’t expect to call someone on Monday and arrange to meet them on Tuesday. It typically doesn’t work that way! Again, build this in to your personal planning, so that you are taking actions this week, to arrange a meeting in a month’s time.
Growing Your Network
Now that you have your network established, you need to look after it and grow it. The best way to look after it is to maintain contact with the members of your network on some frequency. It doesn’t have to be overly frequent, but maintain contact somehow. We all get busy with life and work, and at times, you will not have the time you really want to spend on your network, but keep it alive.
You don’t want to be that person who reaches out only when they want something! You know who I mean.
This also applies to members of your network. They may not be responsive or appear to make an effort at some point, but don’t give up on them. They may be back. There maybe something going on in their life at that moment that is demanding more of their time. For example, we’ve had a very challenging couple of years in my family dealing with aging parents and ultimately their passing, which has demanded a massive amount of my time, leaving me with very little ability or energy to spend on my network. However, I’ve tried to keep it going as best I could, and now with this family need behind me (unfortunately), I’m trying to revive my network again.
To grow your network, look for opportunities to meet new people. Within your existing network, ask a member if they can recommend someone for you to connect with from their network. This can be done through a LinkedIn referral, or ask them to connect you virtually by sending an email to both of you to introduce you to each other. Arrange to meet with them and their colleague for a coffee.
You can make great connections at leadership development seminars or training, or when attending trade shows or conferences. Wherever you are, whether it be for personal or business purposes, be looking for good opportunities to add to your network. Remember though, the game is not to get as many “connections” as possible and LinkedIn connections do not necessarily define your professional network. In a truly professional network, you know each member personally, you can vouch for them, and they for you.
Other Related Posts:
How to Build and Maintain a Professional Network – Dawn Rosenberg McKay
The Most Common Professional Networking Mistake – Alison Doyle