As the saying goes, it’s not what but who you know that really matters. And while that may not be entirely true, the importance of building a strong professional network, and constantly expanding your professional circle, cannot be understated. Throughout my career in executive leadership and sales roles at tech companies, my network has been a powerful tool for creating value and closing deals. I recently became the Chief Revenue Officer of Voray, a company dedicated to cultivating authentic professional relationships, in part because I believe so strongly in the need for a solid network of professional relationships.
But creating and cultivating your network often can seem overwhelming, and is a professional task that frequently falls by the wayside. I don’t think it should be that way – and over time, have found the below tips to be helpful:
Prioritize Quality Over Quantity
More isn’t always better – sometimes it’s just more. Authenticity is the key to successful networking relationships. Focus more on connecting with people that you are genuinely interested in learning from, working with or helping. Said differently, forget about collecting business cards just to have business cards. I’ve found that contacts without connection don’t go all that far.
Stretch Outside of Your Comfort Zone
There are countless professional organizations that you can become involved with that will help grow your professional circle. But don’t limit it to simply the industry or people that you may already know. Look into other organizations where you may be able to get to know people in different industries – they may be able to help you down the road. If you’re a small business or solopreneur, look into coworking spaces like Grind or WeWork to create a network of people you can tap. If you already have those systems in place, platforms like LinkedIn can be a great resource. As networking expert Kelly Hoey says, if you only have two minutes: “Post a LinkedIn update or refresh your profile. Share an article you found insightful or make sure it’s up to date. Your online presence matters and maintaining it could pay off, Hoey writes. An added benefit? That article you post on LinkedIn could be a great conversation starter down the line. “Consistency is key,” Hoey tells CNBC.”
Know who you’re meeting with, and take the time to learn about them, both in advance of the meeting and while you’re there. You wouldn’t go into a meeting unprepared, or tune out halfway through somebody’s presentation. So why would you go to a luncheon or networking opportunity without doing a little digging on who will be there, and thinking about what you want to accomplish? And while you’re there – make the most of your time! Ask questions, listen and be engaged. Before each Voray, we send guests a list of who will be in the room. Why? We want our guests to have the chance to think about how they can best use their time together. When it comes to professional networking, there’s no such thing as being over-prepared.
Be An Advocate For Others
David Olk, our CEO at Voray, talks a lot about why you should be an advocate for others by helping to facilitate helpful introductions and advise or mentor whenever possible. Yes, we are a company devoted to facilitating authentic and useful professional connections, and for me personally, I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of advocating- especially for women. I think that it’s critical to mentor young women in business across all industries, not because it will help me down the road but because people have helped me. I take great pleasure and personal pride in seeing the people that I have mentored succeed and grow professionally. An added bonus – I’ve gotten to take advantage of the reverse mentoring that often takes place in relationships like these. As Forbes called out: Mentoring done well is a two way street. Millennials stand to learn valuable organizational and leadership skills from their older mentees. Today’s millennial mentors will be tomorrow’s Chief Digital Officers, the individuals who will ensure that their companies continue to stay relevant enough to stick around for the longer term.
And perhaps most importantly, remember…
In order to best showcase your strengths, you need to open yourself up to people. This can be unnerving at first – but leads to real rewards when it comes to networking. And, according to Harvard Business Review, trying to be somebody you’re not can have real consequences. “Trying to anticipate what will impress the other person both increases your anxiety and makes you feel inauthentic. So don’t adjust your behavior to cater to others’ preferences. Instead, focus on aspects of yourself that you want to highlight. Talk about topics that interest you. Ask questions that you are genuinely curious to know the answers to. Don’t worry about projecting a particular image. Feeling at ease goes a long way toward leaving a good impression.”