How To Network Like A Pro

Learning how to network effectively is one of the most powerful tools an individual can use to advance their personal and professional life. This skill can help you land your dream job, score a promotion, and become close with the leaders in your industry.

We spoke to networking guru Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder and Chairman of Business Network International, and Matthew Rothenberg, Editor-in-Chief of career content at TheLadders, about the secrets to networking effectively.

What does the best strategy for networking boil down to? Building real relationships, actively maintaining them, and giving as much as you take. Of course, there's a lot more to it than just those details...


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Why is networking important?
It's simple: knowing the right people can get you places that you might not reach otherwise.

Of all the areas where networking can help you, the most important are probably getting new business, finding a job, and having relationships with key people who can help you out in ways you can't predict yet.

Networking opens up new opportunities for you, TheLadders.com's Rothenberg says. Particularly in the case of job-hunting especially in this extremely competitive market, networking can be the difference between scoring a job and not.

Ultimately, it's all about the relationships: the ones you can build through networking are invaluable. As Misner puts it, "when times are tough, a client will leave you, but a friend won't."


How to get started: practice, practice, practice

If you've never done it before, networking can be an intimidating endeavor.

According to Rothenberg, the only way to become an expert networker is to "practice practice practice. The more you do it, the better you get."

To get started, Business Network International's Misner suggests first sitting down with a guidebook (we list several good ones at the end of this feature) and learning the basics.

You should also participate in a networking group; Misner breaks them down into 4 types:

1. Casual contact networks (networking events or industry mixers)
2. Knowledge networks (professional associations)
3. Strong contact networks (groups that meet frequently specifically to build professional relationships, like those run by BNI)
4. Online networks (professional social media services, such as LinkedIn)

If possible, you should be active in one of each.


1. Be visible

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hagwall/Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hagwall/You won't be able to network if you're not visible. If people don't know who you are, you can't start building those important relationships.

Many small business owners are so focused on the day-to-day of their business that they forget about actively networking, Misner comments.

"Be visible. Networking is a contact sport! You have to get out and connect with people," he says.




2. Build solid relationships

"Trust is key to networking," says Misner.

You have to cultivate real, deep relationships with your contacts before you can ask them for a favor or expect them to send you business.

"It takes time for people to have confidence in you and have a relationship with you -- you have to invest in them," he continues.

One of Misner's favorite acronyms is "VCP," which stands for:

Visibility: "They know who you are and what you do."

Credibility: "They know who you are and what you do, and they know that you're good at it.

Profitability: "They trust you enough that they're willing to do business with you."

How do you develop these networking relationships? You approach your professional contacts as you would any other relationship, Misner says. "You have to sit down and learn about the individual."

Try connecting with them on a level other than business -- people bond over overlapping areas of interest, no matter what they are.

When you start to care about one another, you've developed a solid professional contact.

Related: How To Turn Yourself Into CEO Material >


3. Diversify

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/myklroventine/Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/myklroventine/Having a diverse network is just as important as having a large network.

If you only know people who are like you -- i.e. in your industry or social group -- "your network becomes insular," says Misner.

But when your network is diverse, you're more likely to know "connectors," or those who can put you in touch with people you never would have met otherwise. And those people will be able to help you in different, better ways.



4. Maintain

4. Maintain4. MaintainIn an interview with Inc. magazine, networking guru Keith Ferrazzi says, "Every free moment is a chance to E-mail or call someone." According to the profile, "He makes hundreds of phone calls a day....He sends E-mail constantly. He remembers birthdays and makes a special point of reaching people when they have one."

Your network will be useless if you don't maintain it -- that means constantly reaching out.

For beginners, Misner suggests making a game plan with a "scorecard" of networking points. Whenever you actively make an effort to reach out to a contact, you get a point.

Sending a thank-you note, making a phone call, arranging a meeting, sending an article of interest to someone, displaying someone else's goods in your store, putting someone else's link up on your Facebook... all of these count as networking, and you should be doing these as often as you can.

"Count those touchpoints! How many times are you reaching out?" Misner asks. "With the technology we have today, there is no excuse not to stay in touch."


5.Give back as much as you can

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/marcinmoga/Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/marcinmoga/Giving is a crucial element of networking that people often forget.

According to the Inc. profile of Ferrazzi, "Successful networking is never about simply getting what you want. It's about getting what you want and making sure that people who are important to you get what they want, too."

Rothenberg recognizes that "it's easy to drop off when you're not actively in need of something." But you need to remember that networking is a perpetual give-and-take.

He continues, "You want to be the one people go to when they need something. That means suggesting somebody else for a job when you can, putting them in touch with an acquaintance they should know... You have to give, give, give."

Check out more ways to network like a pro >