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We’ve all seen the data on networking. Research shows that professional networks lead to increased opportunities, improved capacity to innovate, strengthened knowledge, faster advancement, as well as greater status and authority. A recent online survey has found that 85% of all vacancies are filled via networking.
Yet, there’s a disconnect between what we know to be true and our actions. Today, less than a quarter (24%) of people are focused on getting in touch with old contacts within their professional networks, while only 28% are focused on building new relationships, according to new research from McKinsey.
So, why aren’t more of us establishing and growing professional connections? Done right, networking has the potential to unlock substantial benefits — without compromising our values. I’ve spent the past four years building Network & Chill, which provides an unmatched opportunity for innovative, driven professionals and entrepreneurs from a diverse range of sectors to gather in a social, relaxing and exclusive environment. Here’s what I’ve learned about networking with credibility and integrity:
Related: Kim Kaupe Shares How to Build a Powerful Network (Even if You’re an Introvert)
1. Embody your networking archetype
Conventional wisdom has it that you have to be an extrovert to succeed at networking, but the reality is that there are multiple ways to excel. Step into your power by embodying your personal networking archetype. Let me give you a few examples:
The Advocate is passionate about fixing what isn’t working in society and recognizes that connecting with like-minded people is a vital way to share activist ideas and bring about positive change.
The Messenger disseminates information and makes connections among diverse groups of people, sparking innovation and collaboration. The Messenger has a natural talent for creating spontaneous ties.
The Visionary develops solutions, approaches business in unconventional ways and forges relationships to help bring the future into the present.
2. Invest in your inputs
The best networkers nourish themselves with a diet of insider knowledge. In other words, they have excellent inputs. The secret to being able to hold a stimulating conversation on a range of topics is to fill your mind with insights and ideas. The more divergent, the better.
Give yourself a self-improvement budget each month. Cultivate a continuous learning mindset, and regularly invest in your personal development.
Gather knowledge from a stream of sources. Subscribe to newsletters, listen to audiobooks from inspiring entrepreneurs, or join an online membership that gives you access to a library of courses. The opportunities are endless.
Create a commonplace book — a hub for ideas, quotes and information you come across. Dip into it when you’re running low on inspiration.
Related: The Ultimate Networking Guide: 4 Ways to Expand Your Network
3. Tell a purposeful story
Stories provide clarity. They help the people you meet understand who you are, what you stand for, where you’re going and why. But too many of us leap into networking without a firm grasp of our origin story. It’s time to change that.
Set aside time to capture your story. If you find writing challenging, try going over it with a friend or recording your story on your phone.
Know your “why.” Ask yourself: Why this business? Why does it matter? Why do I want or need it to work? Use these answers as the foundations for your personal story.
Show your passion. Your audience, network or a potential investor is far more likely to remember how enthusiastically or passionately you spoke than any facts or figures you relay.
4. Embrace cathedral thinking
In a world rife with short-termism, the simple act of thinking ahead confers a huge advantage. Cathedral thinking, a mindset that can be traced back to medieval times, calls on us to develop far-reaching visions that serve generations to come. However, when it comes to networking, too often we limit our focus to the here and now. So, what’s the solution?
- The best time to start was yesterday, or so the saying goes. Whatever technique you use, remember to create a system to manage your relationships well in advance.
Be a patient investor in relationships. It’s a give-and-take. While you may be focused on what you stand to gain, make sure you take time to see what you can give to others. The people you invest in now might just be the people you need later. Take time to mentor up-and-coming professionals or budding entrepreneurs.
Make it a habit to speak to people who are not directly linked to places or people you already know. Diversifying your network provides opportunities to hear new views and ways of thinking — ultimately sparking innovation.
Related: 3 Proven Strategies for Growing Your Network
5. Create a 360-degree network
The ideal network ripples in all directions. It comprises individuals from all walks of life, who have the diverse skills and perspectives to help you grow, evolve and become more advanced. But this doesn’t happen by accident: It takes discipline and intentionality to build a 360-degree network.
Immerse yourself in communities that expand your horizons, both on- and offline. For example, Network & Chill hosts thousands of unique professionals, entrepreneurs and investors, across a range of sectors, professions and all socio-economic backgrounds.
Actively seek out people who disagree with you. They are much more likely to be able to connect you with people beyond your reach than those who mirror your background, life experiences and career choices.
Don’t limit networking to professional settings. The interactions you have when you’re pursuing your hobbies and the activities that bring you joy are every bit as valuable as those that take place elsewhere. Informal environments can be integral to breaking down barriers and allowing you to access people who may have previously felt inaccessible.
So, if you follow the five tips above, you will be able to scale your network without losing your credibility or integrity. Find and embody your personal network archetype, invest in your personal development, tell your story with passion, develop far-reaching visions, and diversify your network — taking these steps will unlock extraordinary benefits for yourself and for your career.