Professional networking should be a priority and is crucial for advancing your career if you want to be an innovative thinker and leader.
80% of professionals say that networking is important for their careers. Yet, 49% of this group did not keep in touch with their network because they didn't have enough time. No matter your job title or where you are in your career journey, professional networking should be a priority and is crucial for advancing your career if you want to be an innovative thinker and leader. Whether you no longer keep in touch with your connections or never made them in the first place, you're missing out on opportunities and losing touch with industry trends.
In this comprehensive guide, you'll learn about why networking is important for business leaders.
Professional networking is when you meet people who work in your industry and build relationships with them. This is done both online and in person.
But there are actually three distinct types of networking that you need to know about to make the most of your networking efforts. Which of these types you engage in depends on your current projects and future business goals.
The purpose of operational networking is to get the job done right. It's also focused on ensuring everyone on the team can maintain their capacity and do what they require. The key contacts in operational networking are internal and are those who are involved in completing the project at hand. These include managers, employees, and outside contacts such as suppliers and customers. With operational networking, you want to focus on the depth of your professional relationships. These are key to everyone working together and completing the project with precision and excellence.
The purpose of personal networking is to work on your professional development. Therefore, you are focused on creating contacts and getting referrals to contacts and the valuable information they can provide. With personal networking, your contacts are external (outside of your company). The connections you make are helpful for both your current position as well as for your future endeavors. With personal networking, you want to make a variety of contacts and focus on depth with a few key contacts who are most relevant to your job and industry.
The goal of strategic networking is to figure out what future priorities and challenges exist for your company. Then, you leverage stakeholders from your strategic network to support these initiatives.
The people in your strategic network can be internal and external, but both focus on the future.
An example of strategic networking is when a manager gets to know the people in her team. It also includes networking with the people in other teams or departments in her company. This way, she can have the best contacts for the company's future needs.
Now that we've gone over the main types of networking let's dive into why networking is vital for your career development.
Your network is like a library of knowledge that's specific to your industry or field.
If you're just starting, building connections with experts in your field and even those who were in your position only several years prior is crucial to your career development.
While you can gain knowledge on your own through experience and trial-and-error, having industry contacts helps you access knowledge faster.
Access to knowledge also includes knowledge of companies and other experts. The person you're talking to might not be able to answer your question, but they can refer you to someone who can.
You may also have applied to a job recently but wanted an insider view of their company culture. If you network with someone from within the company, you can access their knowledge and better understand whether you and that particular company would be a good fit.
Networking can expose you to valuable new opportunities that you wouldn't be able to find anywhere else. Many jobs don't immediately go public, and some never go public at all.
For job opportunities, you don't have to network with a prospective employer directly.
Instead, you might network with someone else in the industry who meets you, likes you, and then recommends you to a company that's currently looking to hire talent.
If you're an entrepreneur, networking can also expose you to new opportunities through meeting the ideal clients for your business. You may also hear about an exciting new venture that you'd like to be a part of.
The best opportunities for your career advancement won't be found by looking at online advertisements, nor will you stand out in an endless line of emails or resumes.
By networking in person, you give people the chance to get to know you, see your passion and expertise for themselves, and decide to work with you.
If you're starting your career or have recently changed careers, getting a mentor can spell the difference between complete confusion and a clear direction.
Best of all, mentors can save you a lot of time (and money) by warning you about costly mistakes and pointing you in the right direction.
You're more likely to reach the level of success you're aiming for when you have a mentor, and you're more likely to get there faster. But mentors aren't only helpful for those getting started in their industry. If you're an innovator in your field, then you're going where no one has gone before.
Even if your mentor isn't working on precisely the same projects you are, they will still have vital skills that you may be missing at your current stage of professional development. Mentors can also help you develop business instincts that you may not have had a chance to hone yet.
If the thought of building a strong professional network makes you feel stressed, you're not alone. But no matter how nervous you might be at the idea of networking, it's actually a great way to boost your confidence.
This holds especially true in helping you become more confident in approaching people and talking to people you don't know, as well as helping you improve your leadership skills.
Practicing in-person helps you gain confidence in networking situations where it matters most, such as at an important job interview or when pitching to a potential business partner, investor, or high-profile client.
When it comes to these high-stakes situations, you need to have confidence and project it. No one will believe in your product or service if you don't sound like you believe in it yourself.
To get access to the best opportunities, you need to radiate confidence in all areas. This includes your belief in your product or service to the way you speak and carry yourself.
No matter how new or seasoned you are within your industry or role, you need to stay on top of industry best practices. Technology is constantly changing, and these changes might affect how your industry works.
These changes naturally apply to tech companies, whose developers, UX, and other teams must stay on top of available technologies and programming best practices.
But industry best practices aren't just limited to software companies. For example, let's say you own a restaurant or a chain of restaurants. You need to stay on top of which platforms are the best for managing payroll, inventory, and customer payments.
You may not have considered a specific program until your restaurant colleague told you about how much time it saved them.
Industry best practices don't just evolve with technology. They also change with time and as people try out different methods and techniques.
By networking with others in your industry, you'll narrow down which best practices are relevant to you and see which ones are currently driving business for both your colleagues and competitors.
Innovation is the key to making your product or service stand out from the competition. Therefore, one of the most important leadership qualities is the ability to think innovatively and outside of the box.
And while you may have these qualities already, it's not easy to maintain innovative thinking all the time, and it's normal if you get stuck. Sometimes all it takes to drive your own innovative thinking is to have an illuminating conversation with someone else in your field or industry.
Since everyone carries their own background, education, and experiences with them, you could learn something new that might shift your perspective.
Even if you're at the forefront of innovation in your industry, you can always benefit from a new perspective that will inspire you to expand your ideas in ways that you hadn't thought of before.
Don't discount networking in your personal life, either, as one of these relationships might know someone who can help and inspire you.
Industry trends show you where you need to pivot now and where you may need to pivot later. While you may think you're staying on top of trends by looking at industry news once a week, the information you find on your own often isn't enough.
Networking is one of the best ways to stay informed about industry trends. If a large number of the people you talk to are referencing the same trend, then it's a good sign you should look into it and pivot your business decisions accordingly.
Also, consider using platforms to help you stay on top of industry trends.
These can have reports and case studies that will be helpful for you to stay on top of the current trends in your industry and help you keep track of what your competitors are doing.
When you make connections, you're investing in your career. You never know when someone might become an important connection in the future, so don't assume that a connection isn't meaningful just because they can't help you achieve a goal right now.
Whether you're launching a startup or you're looking for a new job, you shouldn't stop networking once you've accomplished one of these goals.
For example, let's say you networked with the manager of a company in your field. You liked their company vision and management style, but they didn't have job openings when you met with your contact, and you already found a job.
This doesn't mean that you should forget about this contact, as they might have an invaluable opportunity for you in the future.
This is why it's vital to maintain relationships. Sometimes this can be as simple as sending a follow-up email and thanking them for taking the time to speak with you.
To gain credibility, you must be visible. Imagine if a company came out with an antivirus program, and nobody had ever heard of them, either within the industry or outside of it.
You can guess that people wouldn't be likely to trust this company, especially with their sensitive data. Instead, they'd more likely go to an established company that not only has good reviews but that has industry approval as well.
This is the kind of credibility you want to establish. Not only do you need to focus on establishing credibility with prospective and current customers, but you need to do so with industry professionals as well.
When people start seeing you at networking events, they'll know that you're dedicated to what you do and are always looking to learn more.
You'll be seen as more trustworthy, which is vital if you're looking for investors, new clients, or a business partner.
No matter how experienced you are in your field, you can't predict the entire future of your industry on your own.
And while predictions are still predictions, networking with key industry leaders can help you see where the future of your industry is going.
To be as adaptable as possible, you need to stay informed of challenges that may affect your industry in the future. You need to have a plan in place to deal with any changes that could impact your business and take timely, strategic action.
This includes learning the skills that will be required in your industry in the future before you need them. No matter whether you're an employee or an entrepreneur, you'll be behind your competition if you don't.
To stay relevant and continue to create new products and services ahead of the curve, you need to keep learning about where your industry is headed and the skills you will need moving forward.
Pitches are like job interviews in that the more you practice the skill, the better you get at it. The purpose of a business pitch is to present your idea to a potential investor and get their attention in a short amount of time. You need to give them a clear idea of your plan and convince them why they should invest in you.
This is why having a well-practiced pitch is so important.
When you're networking, you might run into someone who is the perfect person to pitch to. You don't want to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because you didn't practice enough and weren't confident.
Practicing your business pitch includes practicing in a situation like the situation you'd actually be pitching in. So, the next time you're at a networking event, practice pitching to industry professionals who are the perfect audience to practice on and might even give you valuable feedback.
It's one thing to market your product through commercials or online, but it's another to be able to make your product stand out.
Let's say you've created new software. This software helps companies and organizations communicate and better manage their projects.
Advertising online is an acceptable and common way to get your product in front of more people. But you're likely going to get lost in the barrage of advertising that managers and CEOs encounter daily.
When you network, you have the opportunity to tell key business leaders and decision-makers about your product directly.
If you're embarking on a venture, you still want to increase awareness of it as you never know who you might meet that could help you. This could be a mentor, industry insider, or even a high-profile figure who has access to an extensive network of relationships.
Always keep in mind that you never know who your contacts might know. Even if the person you're currently talking with may not be able to help you, they might know the perfect investor or customer. They may even give you a personalized referral to this contact.
To get the most out of your network and keep your reputation professional, follow some networking best practices.
Best practices include more than dressing professionally and being on time.
You want to make sure that you are building relationships with your network the right way from the start. That way, you can continue a mutually beneficial professional relationship in the future.
When networking, make sure you're providing value to the other person. This includes offering them resources that could help their own career. For example, you might know someone who might be a good connection for them, or you know of a professional association they could join.
You could also offer them advice on a problem they're currently facing in their business.
By offering value to the other person, you're building trust. You're also showing that you want to provide value for someone else as much as you'd like to get value from them.
Networking doesn't stop at creating a network by accepting a few requests to connect on LinkedIn. To stay top of mind and keep growing your knowledge, you need to continually build your network.
One of the best methods for growing a network is to attend industry forums. These are intensive events where the best industry professionals come together. They gather to exchange information and engage in discussions on the cutting edge of your industry.
Some examples of other networking events include:
Another good tip is to try and leave each interaction with the name and contact information of one person you can contact in the future. Whoever you're currently networking with, make sure to also refer them to someone that would be beneficial for them to talk to. This is a great way to grow your network while also creating reciprocal professional relationships with your contacts.
To maintain your network, follow up and maintain communication with your most important relationships. You may be pressed for time, so try and schedule your networking like you would any other part of your day.
This could mean spending half an hour a day networking or dedicating a more significant time block once or twice a week.
Make sure to follow up with each contact you meet with. 24-48 hours after your meeting, let them know how helpful it was to meet with them.
Establish what you agreed upon moving forward. For example, this could be another meeting in the future or sharing some resources over email.
It's never too late to start networking and expanding your network. The sooner you do so, the sooner you can build a network that will expand your relationships, industry knowledge, and expose you to future opportunities.
If you'd like to build your network further and help shape the future of technology and innovation, consider joining our Innovation Advisory Council.
The members of this group benefit from exposure to leading VC firms and market trends. To become a more innovative leader at the forefront of new and disruptive technologies, request to join today.