How to Build a Network, Before You Need One

Students and professionals alike regularly hear about the benefits of networking.  They may see it as some sort of punishment or obligatory task that would require them to introduce themselves to a stranger.  In professional circles, “network events” are often nothing more than shameless vendor self-promotion hidden under the guise of free food and drink.  This misconception starts with an improper definition of networking and a lack of understanding of how and why to build one.

A network is simply a collection of people or resources that connect for mutual benefit.  It could be the members of a club pulling together to accomplish a big vision.  It could be a work team.  It could be a group that joins up because of a shared interest or cause. A network effect occurs when there are enough members of the network to have the scale and reach to allow each member to contribute and benefit.

You build a network because you can’t do everything alone and neither can members of your network.  Even with the wealth of the internet at our fingertips, it is useful to learn from others about what college to attend, what clubs to join, or how to improve your 5k time.  It is satisfying to offer your own expertise for the benefit of others.  You don’t build a network just to take.  You must be purposeful about giving as well.

You have heard the adage, that to have a friend, you must be a friend.  The same is true to building your network.  Start by connecting to people you respect or appreciate by telling them so.  Use social media invitations or a personal invitation complimenting them and saying that you’d like to stay in touch.  Then simply do what you said: stay in touch.  Let your network know what is going on with you.  Ask questions.  Ask people to refer others who might have expertise where you need it.  Answer questions.  Offer your expertise or make an introduction to someone you know who is a relevant expert.  Be a catalyst that brings people together to discuss big ideas or practical projects to make the world a better place.

Remembering that networks are just people that are helping each other be more successful, makes it easier to build and keep your network strong.

This article was published by Saturday Academy.