5 Steps to Build a Great Network

We live in an age dominated by technology, where so many processes and activities are now automated to make our lives simpler and easier. However, there are certain aspects of doing business that will always be hard to replace. Building relationships is one of those. Relationships draw on something that a machine just can’t replicate – the fabric of human connection; where personality, tone and behaviour are just some of the attributes that can make or break the connection with another.

Relationships can also make or break you, as an individual. They can help you in your current role; from solving a problem you might have to your next promotion. From a personal perspective, they can lead to future opportunities like the possibility of working in another company, or they could help you learn more about the kinds of things you’ve always wanted to know.

Before you can realise all this, however, you need to start somewhere. And therein lies the challenge – where do you start? How do you know who to should speak with? When you’ve found them, what do you say? If building your network is part of your job now (and if it isn’t it should be no matter what position you’re in), what’s the best way to make contact and how do you cut through the noise to ensure you are front of mind?

1. Know what you want to achieve:

Quite often, we find it easier to connect with people similar to us. However, what is this actually doing for our development and for future opportunity? Are we connecting purely for our own gain or could connecting with the intent to help someone else expose you to new things? Opportunity Makers, seek out those that are different from themselves. Why? Often, it’s the people with different skill sets and experience that, can prove to be the closest allies. You can learn more, draw on complimentary skills and networks – all of the things that can help you grow. At the same time, you can share your expertise with others which can help both of you in the long run.

What about the kind of connections you would make in a sales role or even internally if you’re at a big organisation with many teams? While the previous fundamentals are still relevant here, think about the people you need to know better to help successfully deliver a project or where you could look to improve a business
process. By connecting with the right people, you can help expedite approvals on a big piece of work or change for the better the way people conduct a certain task because you have the right buy-in. Building your network here also helps get you visibility to what else is going on and at the same time, can start to get you noticed by different people.

On the other hand, you might be looking to connect with someone who uses Twitter more regularly, so look them up and follow them to establish how you could use that channel to get in touch. It could be that an industry forum is best as it will have multiple people to meet with in one place. Whatever it is, remember that your existing contacts can also be a great source of new introductions. Chat with the people you are close with and explain what you are trying to achieve or the types of companies you are looking to meet with and see how they can help.

2. Find the right way in

There are a multitude of ways to reach people. There’s traditional networking, calling, emailing but perhaps most importantly, it’s now far easier than ever before thanks to channels like social media. They key is working out which of these are being used by the people you want to connect with. In my opinion, LinkedIn is still the go-to as a tool for finding and connecting with professionals. It has a powerful search ability and it gets you directly in front of the right person.

3. Provide some context – why should they meet with you?

This is a big one, especially when you’re using tools like LinkedIn or another form of communication to connect for the first time. I have seen WAY too many bad connection requests on LinkedIn. You know, the ones that say “I’d like to add you to my network” or “Since you are a person I trust, I would like to add you to my network.” They’re both automated, I get that, but this second one still continues to make me laugh when you get it from someone you know nothing about.

The best rule here is asking this: “If I was asking someone to have a coffee, what would I say? Would I just send them an invite and hope they accept?” Put some thought into it. People need context on why you want to connect with them. If you’re looking to send an email, provide a compelling reason why the person on the other end should (1) read it and (2) take action and meet with you. Talking about what you do is not a good enough reason.

4. Show you’ve done your research

Today, people are not just easier to find, they’re also easier to learn about. So use the channels that have been mentioned to help build on the context piece mentioned as part of Point 4; review their LinkedIn profiles, see what they’re Tweeting about and who they’re following, take a look at their company website to learn more on what they do, identify who already knows them and could provide a relevant introduction. If you haven’t taken the time to understand even a little about the person you are meeting with, why should they want to do anything with you? Showing you have done your research can make for a great ice-breaker when you do reach out and can start to build trust straight away.

5. Be Yourself, But Know Your Audience

People want to connect with other humans. It’s uncomfortable having to deal with someone who’s put the sales pitch on you. It creates a natural aversion to continuing a conversation and immediately brands someone a certain way. In most cases, that image is hard to break. Look at the tone you use when speaking with someone for the first time. Being human doesn’t mean being unprofessional, but it does mean showing a more real you – someone that is believable and not rehearsed. And always remember to take into account your audience. You probably wouldn’t talk to a CEO of a prospective client the same way you would your colleague. Keep the humanity, but don’t forget who’s on the other side of the table.

(with thanks to Job Advisor for this).