What does networking mean to you? Is it a means to an end, or is it an ongoing strategy that supports your professional development?

Networking, when leveraged correctly, can help you develop and improve your skillsets, meet potential mentors, partners, and clients, keep your fingers on the pulse of latest industry trends, learn about job and career opportunities, and gain access to resources to help you nurture professional growth. 

How can networking have these kinds of results? By turning surface-level networking connections into meaningful relationships. 

The purpose of networking is to initiate relationships, not deepen them. The deepening happens after the initial networking occurs. Transition basic associations to meaningful relationships by establishing a sincere connection from the get-go and taking the time to follow up and nurture communications.

Create a Sincere First Impression 

First impressions are said to be made in the first seven seconds. Those seconds are crucial to establishing a sincere connection between you and another person. 

Skip the small talk and dive right into a real conversation, even if you are meeting online. Don’t start with topics like the weather or the buffet, and skip generic questions like “What do you do?”.

Talk about industry happenings, trends, challenges, and sure to talk with them, not at them. Most certainly, refrain from delivering a sales pitch. Conversation is a skill and fortunately, it’s one you can improve. 

Follow Up, Show Interest, and Be a Resource 

Proper networking etiquette says that you should not take up all of someone’s time when you are connecting. Everyone attends events with the intent of meeting others (even virtually), which means everyone should respect other people’s times and intentions. Asking for contact information to follow up afterwards is expected. 

After meeting someone in person or online, send out a short follow up message by email or phone. Key points to include in your message: 

  • Identify where you met or engaged with them (i.e. which event) 
  • Mentioned something you talked about, or shared, to trigger their memory 
  • Include a call to action, ranging from a request to connect online to meet again via a video chat or phone call

Be a resource if possible. Share information, links to articles, or whatever you can to show that you thought further about the conversation you both had. A simple gesture shows that you were paying attention and that you are a valuable resource. Two excellent qualities to have in a new connection. 

Nurture Your Network 

Establishing a strong network takes time. Relationships don’t happen overnight. Consistent and genuine effort with your network will allow people to get to know you on the professional level you desire, which eventually leads them to trust you – and this is where the value of your network lies. 

When people know you and trust you, they are more likely to share their network and resources with you. 

Nurturing your network means being present and providing value. It doesn’t mean that you must regularly reach out to every single person in your network at a set time. Instead, engage in natural conversations, attend events online and talk with both new people and people you already know, send occasional check-in emails, or initiate a video call.

Your network is full of people. Engage them, show interest, and be present – even virtually!