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Networking has become something of a buzzword in the business world. It’s a term loaded with meaning but people rarely scratch the surface of to try to understand it.

Professional social media sites like LinkedIn allow us to connect almost effortlessly with a huge network and to expand that network with a few clicks. When it comes to truly connecting to people in your network, however, there are a few old school tips that you should still rely on.

There are hundreds of tips on how to network effectively and use that network to benefit your career or your business. Here are six of my favourites:

1.   Identify why you want to make contact with someone.

Building business relationships should always have a purpose. You have limited time to spend on business in your day so each conversation should count. This doesn’t mean that you should think of how much you can extract from this person. But you do need a goal in mind when you set out.

Do you want this contact because they have been where you are and you want some tips? Do you want to get to know someone because you believe they might lead to other important contacts? Or do you think that you have something you can share with them? All are legitimate reasons to bring someone into your network. Just make sure you have that reason in your mind when you set out.

2.    Make the effort to spend actual time with this person.

Email and social networking sites simplify the task of finding, organizing and sending messages to people in our business sphere. Despite these amazing social tools, we are actually at risk of losing our face-to-face social skills.

So log off LinkedIn and actually ask someone for a meeting in person. Go for coffee, lunch or a walk in the park. Have a real chat with someone about why you want to connect with them. Not only will this make an impression on them, it will also give you an opportunity to decide if the connection will actually be beneficial to you.

3.    Find ways to do something for your contact.

Although I mentioned that networking should always have a purpose, this doesn’t mean that your purpose should be in the front of your mind every time you talk to someone. If you consider that networking is about building relationships, then you’ll quickly realize that the best relationships are two way streets.

Don’t just think about your goals. Think about what you can do to help someone achieve their goals as well. If you help someone out and sincerely mean it, they are more likely to give you a boost when you need it.

4.    Keep up regular communication.

So you email a guy, asking for a small favour which he agrees to readily. Then months pass. Your friend emails you a couple of hi, how are yous but you are too busy to respond.  Then you find out that you could use your friend’s help again. Your email goes unanswered. Surprised?

You shouldn’t be. Having a network that you can count on means you need to work on maintaining it. Send someone in your network something that you think they might find useful. Have a fifteen minute coffee or a phone conversation, especially if you don’t need anything from them. Your network will be stronger and you’ll find it easier to pick up the phone when you do need something.

5.    Listen.

When you listen, you hear. That may sound ridiculous, but it’s true. If you truly listen to what people say, you may hear something that you can use. If you are too busy chatting yourself, you never learn anything new. So ask a question and really listen to the answer. You may find out the secret to life. Well, maybe not, but you may find out the answer to hard questions or solutions to problems.

6.    Be honest, especially about challenges you face.

When I’m looking at a particularly thorny problem that is causing me stress, my first instinct is to sort it out myself. In most cases, however, talking to someone about the issue can either help me find a solution. It can also help me recognize that I’m not the only person that has ever faced a particular challenge.

If you spent hours trying to think your way out of a box, it might take someone from the outside to finally let you out. Reach out to others genuinely and with humility and they will most likely reach back.

If hearing the word networking causes you to have heart palpitations, remember that most other people have the same reaction. We’re all in this together. That’s what networking is really about.

Any other tips on networking to share?


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