Tips for growing your professional network

Skills, merit, and qualifications are essential for professionals as well as entrepreneurs. But in order to work smart and advance your career or business, it is important that you learn the art of networking.

Surrounding yourself with the right professionals will enable you to share in their experience and expertise, and open avenues that may be difficult to access on your own. For these benefits and many more, you must necessarily build trust and forge strong professional relationships.

From a friendly albeit fruitful work lunch to sending a simple connection request on LinkedIn, today there are numerous ways to create a professional network. Here we illustrate a few ways in which you can establish a robust network and tend to it.

#1. Be noticeable

Keep in touch with people you want to network with and make sure they know what you do and what you are looking for. Contact these people through email, social media, or in-person regularly so that when they come across an opportunity, they will think of you.

You may already have a spectacular set of contacts. Investing in these existing relationships can go a long way. Make sure you don't call on them only when you need something. Your focus should be both on expanding your network as well as deepening those relationships you have already made.

#2. Treat networking as a two-way street

Cultivate good networking etiquette by offering to help, and not just asking for it. You should be able to show people what you bring to the table, and willing to share your expertise and connections. In doing so, you will be incentivizing the receiver to help you in the future. Also, if you can, connect two or more people from within your contacts. This will help form a long-lasting network.

#3. Build a reputation

Always ask yourself - what makes you a valuable professional contact? Work on your reputation as a dependable, talented, and approachable person so that people will want to connect with you. Broadcast your achievements on your blogs and email and ensure to weave them into your conversations. Also, ensure that you keep learning something new. This way you can connect with people of varied interests.

It is also imperative that you are a good listener. While you should be able to tell people about yourself, make sure you are listening to them as well. This will enable you to help them, if you can, using your own connections and expertise.

#4. Think long term

Who said building a professional relationship should be all about work and no play? If you really invest time and effort into building a relationship, you will realize just how interesting your connections are as people. This may help you find common interests, and in some cases, build long-lasting friendships.

A great way to start on the long-term path is to follow up. Connect with people who give you their business cards promptly to show you are eager to help them. Moreover, if you have made a promise to do someone a favor, always follow through. If you think you cannot help, don't make any commitments.

#5. Use your social media

Get active on not only your LinkedIn profile but also other social media accounts. For LinkedIn, ensure that you have finished updating your profile entirely and have an appropriate profile picture. You should also share relevant details such as where you are based, your skills, and your education. Also, it is imperative that you become a regular on the platform.

You can also wield your personal social media accounts to a professional advantage by exhibiting your personality. Show people who you are by liking the right Facebook pages or retweeting something that demonstrates your interests.

#6. Don't let shyness get in the way

Building networks is all about confidence and making use of your soft skills. For introverts and shy people, however, it can be difficult to talk to prospective connections. If you are one of those, master the use of tools like LinkedIn and Facebook. This lets you get to know people without having to make phone calls or meet them in person.

Introverts will find that strengthening existing contacts can give them the required boost to engage with new ones. Also, try to meet people while you're doing an activity that you enjoy. A shared interest will make the conversation easy and comfortable.

You will have to actively chart out ways in which to connect with people to establish your professional network. Remember, it is not just about planting the seeds of a connection, but also grooming the network so that you and your business may realize its full potential.