Do you enjoy networking? Or do you see it as a necessary evil? Like it or not, networking makes the business world go 'round. So how do you meet other professionals and build an effective network?
"Networking is really word-of-mouth advertising. You want people to have a sense of what you do and who you are so that you can grow professionally," says Teresa Thomas-Carroll, director of Women in Networking and owner of The Purple Crayon Factory, an organization that leads workshops and networking events to help people achieve their personal and professional goals.
Grow Your Network
To build your network, Thomas-Carroll advises talking to your friends. They can be great advocates for you if they know what you want out of your career. Ask your current contacts if they know of anyone you should talk to about a specific goal or a job interest. Soon, you'll have a new list of people to call or e-mail. This works especially well if you're new to an industry or market. Schedule some informational interviews and start forming those all-important business relationships.
As you expand your network, don't just look for potential employers or customers. Everyone you meet has value in some way. "Like any relationship, you look for a spark and then move forward," explains Thomas-Carroll. "It could mean collaborating, getting an unexpected lead or learning something new."
Join A Networking Organization
Thomas-Carroll advises joining Women in Networking (www.mnwin.org) or Twin Cities Transplants (www.imnotfromhere.com). There are many trade groups, alumni associations, chambers of commerce, service organizations to join. Thomas-Caroroll recommends attending a few events to find an organization that fits your style.
"Networking comes naturally to some people, but it can be intimidating for others," says Thomas-Carroll. If you feel awkward passing out business cards at a social hour, look for more structured events or volunteer for a task. "If you are a greeter, you'll meet everyone as they walk in the door, making it easier to strike up a conversation later."
Play The Online Networking Game
Networking websites like LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) or Plaxo (www.plaxo.com) are becoming a powerful resource for connecting or reconnecting with people. Create a professional profile on one or both of these sites and you have an easy, non-intrusive way to reestablish relationships with former colleagues, share contacts and make referrals.
Nurture Your Network
"Follow-up is key," says Thomas-Carroll. "After you've met someone, be sure to send them an e-mail, suggest meeting for coffee or send them a note." Your network will remain strong if you set aside time to nurture and sustain it.
However you approach networking, the more you put in, the more you'll get out. In fact, it might pay off in ways you never anticipated.
Kelly Burkart is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.