How to Build a Strong Professional Network

Networking is often seen as a means to further one's career, but developing a group of professional contacts can also be a great way for professionals to stay abreast of the trends in their particular fields. Networking also can benefit small businesses as they look to connect with vendors that can help them grow their businesses.

A strong professional network is not built overnight, and many professionals spend years nurturing relationships with people in their networks. Individuals and business owners can take several approaches when building professional networks they will rely on for years to come.

Ask around. Some individuals may hesitate to seek networking advice out of fear of appearing opportunistic. But successful professionals understand the need to network, so your colleagues will likely be glad to offer referrals if they're in a position to do so. When receiving a referral, ask if you can use the person's name, which should help you establish a connection during the introductory process. Resist the idea that using a colleague's name when meeting a professional you hope to work with is something sinister, as the name will only help you with the introduction. Once the introduction has been made, it's up to you to do the rest.

Get active in your industry. Referrals are not the only way to develop professional contacts. Being active in your industry by joining professional organizations and attending seminars and other industry events is a great way to expand your network. Volunteer to work with professional organizations when possible or offer to host information sessions or educational workshops at your business.

Reconnect with your college or university. Another great way to build a professional network is to reconnect with your college or university. When meeting people affiliated with your alma mater, the ice has already been broken in a sense, as the school is essentially a built-in connection. You also won't have to worry about the awkwardness that might come when meeting a professional contact with whom you have less in common. Alumni organizations and local chapters can introduce you to people who earned your degree at your school, and many people love to help out their fellow alumni.

Employ social media. Social media is not just for kids. In fact, social media is a great way for professionals to make and maintain professional contacts. LinkedIn, for example, makes it easy to connect with fellow professionals who are looking to do the same. Twitter can be used to promote professional events such as seminars or workshops you are working with. These platforms can be used to grow your network quickly and easily, but be sure to vet each person you connect with to make sure you are affiliating yourself with the right people.

Building a strong professional network takes patience and hard work. But the right network can pay dividends for years to come. 


- Metro Creative