How do you build a professional network when you don’t know anyone in your chosen industry? Daunting as it sounds, this is a necessary part of excelling in your career. Getting to know your peers, colleagues, and the prominent voices of authority in your field can take you far – especially in terms of building a close circle of contacts that can support and guide your growth.
Read on for our top tips on networking best practices, and how to make these strategies work to your professional advantage.
Step 1: Develop Your Personal Brand
Building a personal brand is a step-by-step process. To do this, you’ll need to:
Establish Your USPs
First, you’ll need to define what it is that makes you special. What are your unique selling points (or USPs)? When networking professionally, you will essentially be ‘selling’ yourself and your points of value. Knowing exactly what you can contribute as an individual is key to developing your personal brand.
Develop Your Elevator Pitch
What exactly is an ‘elevator pitch?’ If you’re interested in marketing, you may have heard this term before. An elevator pitch is essentially a summary that highlights the USPs of the product you are attempting to sell. In the case of personal branding, the product you are selling is, of course, you! In that sense, your elevator pitch needs to summarize your key USPs and act as a snapshot of what you can bring to the table.
Promote Your Brand
Once you’ve established your USPs, developed your elevator pitch, and built your personal brand, it’s time to promote it to the world. More specifically, to your professional network. Now that you know what you stand for, getting your name out there is central to your success, and is the next step in your professional networking journey.
Step 2: Engage in Online Networking Strategies
In our digital age, engaging in digital networking is the way of the future. Using professional social media platforms – such as LinkedIn, for example – can help with this. So much so, that an entire networking strategy has been created by the platform LinkedIn to make professional connections online. Commonly referred to as ‘LinkedIn outreach’, this process involves several steps:
- Joining online community groups that are relevant to your professional goals and interests
- Reaching out to other professionals by sending them online connection invitations
- Meeting your online connections for regular ‘virtual coffees’ via video conferencing programs such as Zoom
Of course, LinkedIn is not the only forum you can use to seek out and connect with professional contacts digitally. There are many other industry-specific websites you can visit to make these types of connections. However, LinkedIn has become arguably the most widely used professional social media platform on the Internet, and as such, has gained somewhat of a monopoly in this space.
Step 3: Attend In-Person Networking Events
Despite the advantages of digital networking, the truth is that nothing can replace real, face-to-face human interaction. The benefits of connecting with people in person (rather than on Zoom) are many. For one, doing this allows you to develop genuine connections with the people you meet. When you’re hiding behind your video conferencing screen, it can be hard to get a true feel for who people are.
Further to this, in-person interaction enables you to more easily observe non-verbal cues such as the body language your contact is using. Are they closed off to the conversation, or, are they displaying signs of genuine interest in what you’re saying? Some key things to look out for:
- Are their arms crossed? (Or their legs, if they are seated?) If so, they may be shut off to you and your ideas.
- Are they maintaining consistent eye contact with you? Keeping eye contact while conversing with someone is a sign of respect, and it shows that they value you as an individual.
- Are they leaning into you slightly? This demonstrates that they are engaged, interested, and keen to learn more.
Of course, using the three steps we’ve listed above in combination will get you the best results. Without a doubt, building a professional network from scratch takes effort. As such, you’ll need to put in the work to build up a ‘little black book’ of close contacts you can call on professionally.
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