How to Network Effectively

 

By Lou Dubois

 

Success in business requires you know what other people know but also who other people know. But networking takes more than just a LinkedIn profile or a deep Rolodex.

Making connections and maintaining relationships with the people who support you throughout your career can be the key to success for most individuals. By effectively building a network of colleagues, business associates and more, you are ensuring that whenever you need a new client, a new job, or to develop your skills further, you can call upon your network to help you.

Networking is perhaps more crucial than ever, as an established relationship can make you stand out against the competition. For anyone who has ever worked as an intern at a large organization, one of the best pieces of advice you'll receive is to network, network, and network more while you're there. Take advantage of the access you've been given, go out of your way to meet other intelligent individuals and build up a network of contacts so that when you leave (or if they do first), there is a foundation for a relationship in place.

This guide will teach you about the different categories within your network of contacts, how best to utilize some of the newest features on LinkedIn and lastly why face-to-face networking also known as in-person offline networking is still the best.

How to Network Effectively: Networking Categories

Back when snail mail was the main form of business communication, it could take days to establish a connection with someone from another company. With the advent of the telephone, professionals gained the ability to just pick up the phone and call someone to make that contact. Today, technology has in many ways made even telephones unimportant. With only a person's name, you can Google them, look at their LinkedIn profile, their Facebook information and if they tweet then their Twitter stream. The availability of information on people has drastically improved, but it doesn't detract from the importance of old-fashioned offline networking. If you ask ten different people to define networking, you'll get ten different answers. But according to The Oxford Dictionary, a network is "a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes."

"The real definition of networking to me is building relationships before you need them," says Diane Darling, an expert on the topic and the founder and CEO ofEffective Networking, Inc. based in Boston. "It's difficult because we tend to only do things in life when we need to. But if you're running a marathon, you don't wait until the morning of the race and then just go out to run. On that day of the race, you remember all of the time and hard work you put in ahead of time while training to get to that point. With networking, when you really need a job or new clients, empowering your existing contacts is the key to getting you there."

When considering your contacts, Darling recommends that you think of them as five different subgroups within your network, try not to interconnect and view it like an inverted pyramid.

1. Database: Everyone in your contact that you've interfaced with (email, phone, speaking engagements, rolodex, Twitter), this is the largest group.

2. Network: Your friends and family network, alumni network (example:University of Florida alumni), or business network, these are specific sub-groups but people you trust. They should rarely go over 200 contacts, and to determine if someone is in your network, consider if they would immediately return your phone call. If they get back to you, then they are in.

3. Inner Circle: Ideally about 50 people who can rotate annually and give you candid career feedback about your career. Darling likes to put together a survey atSurveymonkey.com every two years so these people can give her honest