By Nicole Smartt Serres, president of Star Staffing and best-selling author of “From Receptionist to Boss: Real-Life Advice for Getting Ahead at Work.”
If you want to be successful, networking is the difference between mediocre and big. Think of your network as a beautiful garden — one you need to weed, trim and prune in order to keep it healthy and vibrant. And like your garden, your network needs to be fed. You do that by exposing your peers to great ideas and bright thinkers. With these elements, every member of your network has the potential to bloom.
I’ve been watering the seeds of my network for years, and I am starting to reap serious benefits. The reason is simple: Relationships are the bread and butter of success. We need people to buy our products and vice versa. The more connected you are, the more resources you will have access to and the easier your success will come. Make a point to get connected and stay connected. Everyone knows someone. Word of mouth is the fastest and easiest way to build your business, your brand — and your bank account.
Find Like-Minded Peers
There are many places you can go to find friends with common interests. You can try online meetup groups, social media groups and hobby groups. Think about alternatives, too, such as an online book club. When seeking out people with common interests, think about the benefits of diversity. I have a wide array of friends and acquaintances who make my network not only bigger than most, but also deeper and wider. The reason: They come from all walks of life.
Establishing this kind of network is not only great for your business, but it’s also great for you as an individual since you’re constantly exposed to new ways of thinking and learning. Look for trailblazers leading the pack. Look for people who are in a role similar to yours. They know the struggles you’re experiencing because they have been there. And watch for friends who are looking to reach the top but are new to their careers. They represent an opportunity for you to mentor someone else.
Be A Super-Connector
People often forget that you don’t become successful overnight. It took years for me to get to the point I am at now. Connections sometimes take years to pay off, but when they do, the payoff is huge. Connecting people to other people has been one of the foundations of my success. When you meet someone new, you should always be thinking of people you know who they should know. Help others and that help will be returned to you.
The Lunch-Hour Network Strategy
Successful networks can be built around your lunch hour — whether through a virtual lunch date or over a virtual cup of joe. Everyone eats lunch, so I decided a long time ago to use the time for something more than soup and sandwiches. Aim for scheduling three lunch meetings a week, and use that time to connect with other people. Put lunch meetings on your calendar to build stronger relationships with the people you’ve just met or the people you’ve already met and want to know better.
Social Media Groups
The goal here is to be a leader, not just a member of the group. In order to do that you should participate, share your ideas and utilize your network. Spread your wings — and your influence. Find events online and utilize the chat feature to engage, help others and share insights. Find groups on Facebook or LinkedIn where you can build connections and make a positive impact.
Not sure where to look? Think about age groups. I am part of the Young Professional Network, but there are many groups centered around not only age but gender as well. I attend Women in Business online events and belong to groups with other professional women. Leaning into your identifiers is an important aspect of building a diverse network. Sharing common ground with others in these social groups will always get the conversation going. There are also business journal events that include industry-specific events and award ceremonies.
Be Of Value
My goal is to help each person I connect with. I want to know how I can help them by asking thoughtful questions. It turns out that’s also great for me to learn. Helping others make valuable connections, even when you aren’t directly benefiting from them, strengthens and hones your reputation. Eventually, you won’t have to work so hard to convince people you’re the right fit for what they need — your reputation will take care of that.
Building your network as early as possible helps so much later in life. It makes your job easier. When you have a large, diverse network, you’re able to pull from it. In your role, establishing and growing your network can help you bring in new clients, build new friendships, create new relationships and even win recognition and awards. Investing in building and nurturing your network will pay off big, but you have to put in the time.