For many people, professional networking feels forced and uncomfortable. In industries where who you know is as important as what you can do, however, networking is a crucial business skill. It can lead to new job opportunities, mutually beneficial partnerships and exciting business ideas. With a few simple strategies, you can develop better networking abilities quickly.
Take on Leadership Roles
In many cases, the most difficult part of networking is breaking the ice. At a crowded event, it can be intimidating to go up to a group of people and introduce yourself. You're not alone; many other professionals share the same fear. In response, many organizations run an ambassador program to help ensure that each person at an event feels comfortable and connected.
To make professional networking easier, Entrepreneur magazine recommends that you take on a leadership role in one or more groups. Look at the organizations that run the networking events in your area and contact a member to find out about joining an ambassador program, steering committee or welcoming squad. Then, when you attend events, you have an easy way to introduce yourself and join any conversation: "Welcome to our event. I'm an ambassador for..." This simple strategy can make you feel more comfortable and lead to better networking.
Improve Client Communications
Your current and past clients can be an important part of your network; since they've seen your work first hand, they can advocate for you and provide powerful recommendations for new jobs and projects. If you let client relationships slide, however, you lose access to a valuable professional networking asset.
An easy way to improve your professional networking is to improve your communication with past and current clients. Send an email or make a phone call to past clients to check in. Ask how their business is going, making a point to focus on the specifics you learned from your working relationship. Make a list of your most influential clients and send invitations to a business event or networking evening, and mention other attendees that might be particularly beneficial to each client. In doing so, you'll stay on their radar and establish yourself as a facilitator of business partnerships.
Focus on Social Media
After a professional networking event, it is easy to neglect the contacts you made. To keep the connection going, even during busy periods at work, add new contacts to your social media circles. Find them on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Look for their blogs and add them to your RSS feed. Send a note with each invitation or friend request that reminds them of where you met and expresses your interest in staying in touch. This first step invites contacts to reciprocate, which gives them access to your updates. Each interesting post is an opportunity to start a conversation and build a relationship.
Effective professional networking takes time and effort. By starting small and focusing on ways to improve your skills, you can meet more people and develop relationships that benefit your career.
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