Networking. It’s been a buzzword for so long now that it’s pretty much become a part of our everyday language. Regardless of where you are in your business life, at some point, someone has preached to you about the importance of networking. Whether you’re looking to grow your career, become an entrepreneur or build your business, networking is touted as the way to make it happen.

That’s because it’s often true.

For instance, surveys show that 85 percent of jobs are filled via networking, which for people in corporate or management roles isn’t that surprising. Getting the next step up frequently comes down to the rapport you have with supervisors or an introduction to a new company through a peer rather than sending in an application in competition with hundreds – sometimes thousands – of other applicants.

And when it comes to business, especially when the goal is new business, it’s a no brainer. In fact, the personal relationship becomes even more important. According to an Oxford Economics study, 40% of prospective customers convert to new customers as a result of in-person meetings, while client acquisition drops to just 16% without one.

The bottom line is that the connections we make can literally make our career or business. But with that said, many people either aren’t taking the time to make them or they’re wasting their efforts.

One in four people don’t network at all, which means a lot of missed opportunities not only for career or business progression, but also the chance to benefit from shared knowledge and new experiences. And on the flipside, if you’re an avid networker but you’re going about it all wrong, you might as well join the 25% doing nothing.

Networking Benefits

Before we dive into tips on how to properly invest in your networking activities, let’s take a quick look at why you should be networking in the first place. Building a strong network and actively seeking ways to continue to expand your network allows you to:

  • Find opportunities with new contacts or referrals
  • Build your reputation
  • Strengthen existing relationships
  • Exchange information (provide/receive feedback, share knowledge and experiences)
  • Receive advice and support from valued connections
  • Be inspired by spend time around likeminded people
  • Cultivate new ideas

How to Network Effectively

Ultimately, the best networking happens organically. Building relationships with the people you come into contact with in the course of your work and daily life is the easiest way to build genuine relationships because the process is natural. Even if you do have an agenda in mind when you meet certain people, they are not necessarily aware of it – unlike making a beeline for them at an event to force an introduction.

But if you don’t have the opportunity to meet the kinds of people you’d like to start building relationships with – say you work remotely or you’re new to the startup business – there are ways you can work to expand your network.

  • Business Networking Groups: there are groups dedicated to business referral activity like Business Network International, which has hundreds of thousands of members across 8,500 chapters worldwide.
  • Business Groups & Professional Associations: consider relevant industry organizations along with business groups, especially if they are local. The Chamber of Commerce can be a good place to start.
  • Industry Events: attend events that are going to bring value to your professional development as well as the opportunity to network. This ensures you get more bang for your buck and you’ll have more to connect with other attendees on. Also consider finding opportunities to speak at industry events. You may have a niche or specific expertise that organizers are interested in.
  • Seminars & Workshops: learning opportunities present a meaningful way to connect with potential mentors and peers. And they don’t have to be purely business. That person on the mat next to you at your yoga retreat may just be the business guru you’ve been dying to meet.
  • Community, Interest & Hobby Groups: if you have an interest in helping your local community or other personal pursuits, consider joining a group. Common interests are a great foundation for relationship building and you’ll likely meet some like-minded people. Not all of them will necessarily benefit your business life, but if you genuinely enjoy the activities, whether it’s a running group, a book club or a local charity, meeting people that can benefit your business life will just be a bonus.
  • Alumni Associations: your old alumni network could be a goldmine of opportunities today. Many of them have regular events and meet-ups, and the best part is you’ve already qualified as part of the group.  
  • Existing Professional Relationships: strengthen relationships you have with colleagues and acquaintances.
  • Your Personal Life: think about how many people your family and friends know collectively. That’s quite a network. Look for opportunities to widen your own network through your personal relationships.
  • Make A Plan: identify people you want to meet and work on making those connections happen.
  • Social Media/Online Groups: last but not least, the internet offers a variety of opportunities to connect with others. From hobby and interest groups to online communities or simply using platforms like LinkedIn to grow your network, this may not be as powerful as in-person connections, but it’s a start.

Whatever avenues you choose to grow your network, remember that authenticity is key. People don’t want to make connections with people that are only out for what they can get from the relationship. Remember these three key rules:

  • Relationships are a two-way street. Be sure to listen and offer help at least as often – if not more often – than you take from others.
  • Don’t try to do too much. Being an active member of one or two well-aligned groups is more effective than being a member of a dozen that you are not engaging with.
  • Less is more when it comes to building your network, too. Well-developed, genuine relationships are far more fruitful than a bunch of acquaintances

Want to learn more? Check out this video about how to network at an event and this one dedicated to building professional networks.