Your professional network of close and weak contacts is one of your most valuable and transportable assets. An adequately nourished and up-to-date professional network can work wonders for your executive and board careers. Most of us acknowledge the value of personal connections, but we usually stop there because we shudder at the thought of networking or are simply unsure how to build a professional network.
Commit to getting your build your professional network
When tasked with betting their professional network in order, most discover that their current connections are stale, relatively shallow and of little value. It is essential to get in front of this challenge now. Trust me; it is much easier to maintain and nourish your professional network than to play catch-up when you find yourself in need of their assistance.
To build an effective professional network, you must upgrade, re-establish, expand and nurture your contacts. There are several tasks that you should undertake regularly.
Task 1 – Prepare & research your contacts
Who do you know?
Spend some time compiling a list of your current contacts. Then add to the list any additional contact. Focus on past and present business, professional and personal contacts. These contacts may include people you used to work with, alumni, old university friends, people you have done business with, community and professional organisation acquaintances, current or past board or committee members, and even those you know through personal activities (clubs, interests & sports).
Once you have your list, import them into a spreadsheet or CRM.
Update or collect contact information
There are several ways to gather or confirm the contact details for your professional network. Google searches, LinkedIn searches or even utilising websites such as RocketReach. The most important details to collect are their email or LinkedIn address. Add a column or field to include a note regarding the context of the relationship and where you know them from. This will be crucial when personalising or customising your message when reaching out to them in the future.
Task 2 – Qualify and rate your contacts
Grade each contact based on the quality and depth of the relationship. A simple ‘A, B, C’ ranking will suffice. An ‘A’ contact is someone you feel is an advocate or champion of yours – someone who, without question, will have great things to say about you. ‘C’ contacts are individuals whom you do not know very well at all and ‘B’ contacts are those who you know fairly well or very well but are not necessarily individuals you’d consider advocates or champions.
Task 3 – Connect or re-connect to build your professional network
Regardless of whether they are an A, B or C, set yourself a realistic goal to reach out to every contact on your list. Depending on the size of your list, doing this within 30 days is a good goal.
Connect, but don’t be direct
The purpose of this exercise is to build out, or reconnect with, your personal connections, not to ask them to commit to anything. This will be easy to do for some contacts on your list. For others, particularly those you have let go stale, this task may feel a little awkward. There are several easy ways to start or restart a relationship. Starting with a simple “I just came across your profile on LinkedIn and realised we weren’t connected” could be an excellent way to begin. Refer back to your spreadsheet and make reference to where you may know them from and what or who you may have in common. Once you have established or re-established contact, the next step is to maintain ongoing communication.
Let me be clear, the goal of this exercise is about positioning yourself for potential opportunities. Don’t go straight to home base as ask upfront for a favour, introduction or even a role. If the former is the driver of your approach, you will come across as inauthentic and opportunistic. To avoid this, you need to ensure your motivation is right. Show mak a genuine interest in what they are doing, their challenges and their needs. Put their interests before your own. Do this by developing a “how can I help” mantra.
Task 3 – Maintain Contact
Around 50% of all executive and board appointments occur via people you see rarely or infrequently. So, the more frequently and regularly your network contacts hear from you, the better your chances of staying on their radar.
At times this may mean manufacturing reasons to stay in touch. There are countless ways to do so. Great examples of ways to stay in regular contact with your professional network include:
- Sending birthday cards
- Making personal introductions
- Referring to work or business opportunities
- Invite them to networking events
- Forward interesting articles you have read
- Share your discovery of new online resources, a new tool, app or website
- Congratulate them on any achievements or anniversaries
Use LinkedIn to build your professional network
A terrific tool to build your professional network and stay connected. If you are not using it regularly. LinkedIn currently has 810+ million members and 12+ million in Australia. It is therefore extremely likely that those people that you want to connect or reconnect with are on LinkedIn. In addition to connecting, you should follow individuals, businesses and industry organisations. Then join and participate in relevant LinkedIn groups. LinkedIn groups offer the opportunity to keep you up to date with company and industry information and make new connections.
More ways to keep in touch
Whilst LinkedIn is a great and the most appropriate resource to use, it is almost too easy to use. As such, receiving yet another message or connection invite via LinkedIn can lose its lustre. You may also find that some of your contacts may be present but not active on LinkedIn. Consider picking up the phone, writing an email or doing something more personal.
If you take the time to build your professional network and then maintain it, I almost guarantee you will receive a return on the investment of your time. You will be surprised by the positive experiences and opportunities you gain. Don’t overthink it; make networking a habit and not a chore.