A strong business network has powerful benefits. Networking can be the key to finding new clients, and it’s the single best way to land a new job.

Your network can also connect you with mentors and advisors who can help you work smarter or guide you through important business decisions.

Networking is a time investment, though. And as busy as you are with work and family, you need to spend your networking time effectively, whether you’re attending professional events or building your presence on LinkedIn. Luckily, research gives us insights on how to get better results from networking. Try some of these ideas to grow your own professional network.

Start with your mindset

Do you tend to avoid networking events because they feel like an obligation? It’s time for a change in mindset. Writing in Harvard Business Review, researchers Francesca Gino, Tiziana Casciaro and Maryam Kouchaki recommend focusing on what you’ll gain from networking instead of dwelling on the things you don’t like about it. For example, the next time you get invited to a professional event, shift your thoughts from this:

I just hate making small talk It's a great opportunity

to this:

 

 

Need one more reason to shift your thinking? The researchers also found that people who see networking as an obligation tend to have other issues with underperformance on the job.

Don’t neglect ‘weak ties’

Let’s say an old colleague of yours is back in town for a couple of days. Is it worth it to take some time out of your packed schedule to reconnect over coffee? After all, you were never that close to begin with.

coffee meetingThe answer to that question might surprise you. Remember how we mentioned at the start of this article that networking was the best way to find a new job? In one landmark study, researcher Mark Granovetter found that 82 percent of the professionals with new jobs he surveyed had found their position through an acquaintance they saw only occasionally or rarely, not from a close connection. According to Granovetter, people with whom we have weak ties tend to move in different circles than we do and thus have access to different information and opportunities than we do. So it’s more than worth it to go for that coffee with your old colleague – or to check in via email or comment on their social media posts every once in awhile.

Be (wisely) generous

If you’re networking with a goal in mind — like finding enough clients to start your own firm — it can be tempting to base your interactions with others solely on whether they can help you advance that goal. But that’s not the most effective way to network. Adam Grant, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, is well known for his research on givers, takers and matchers. Here’s how he defines the three types:

1
Givers help others with no strings attached

2
Takers focus on getting as much as they can from others

3
Matchers do things for others but expect something in return (and reciprocates when someone does something for them)

Grant has found that the most successful people in life tend to be givers — but so do the least successful people.

What does that mean for you as you network? Grant recommends helping others without sacrificing yourself. Regularly do small favors “that bring high value to other people’s lives, but at a relatively low cost.” Such favors could include forwarding an article or a job opening to a contact, making an email introduction or recommending someone on LinkedIn.

Remember to receive, too

While research shows us the rewards of being generous as you network, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask others for reasonable favors sometimes as well. If you’re worried that the other person will think you’re a nuisance or a burden, it will ease your mind that studies show we tend to like people more after doing them a favor. Here’s the psychological explanation: All of us have a drive to see our behaviors and our beliefs or mindsets align. So when someone does you a favor, his mind sends him a message like this: “Hey, I just helped this person I met at the networking event. Since I spent time doing a favor for him, that must mean he’s a good and worthwhile person.” Let this information embolden you to go ahead and ask for that informational interview or professional introduction.

Get socialSocial Networking

There’s no substitute for face-to-face networking, but online networking can be a valuable supplement, especially when it comes to people we otherwise wouldn’t get to interact with very often — aka those “weak ties” we mentioned above. If you’re not on LinkedIn — or you’ve never done much beyond setting up your profile — you’re missing out on a handy tool to both grow your network and demonstrate your credibility and expertise to your existing network. As you get started, it’s helpful to know that there’s an array of data about what works and what doesn’t on LinkedIn. For example, you don’t have to guess what’s the best content to share (industry insights, according to LinkedIn’s own stats) or the best days and times to post on LinkedIn.

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