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How do you build your professional contacts?

In the first part of this blog we looked at some simple changes everyone can make to improve the way they engage with the easiest source of identifying new work, their colleagues. In part two we’re going to take the next steps and look at the next most productive opportunity source (and the second easiest), our professional contacts.

It appears that networking is being given the pride of place it has always deserved. And, when I talk about networking I mean networking in the truest sense. I mean building a meaningful professional network around us that will support the continued growth and development of our careers, building relationships and identifying opportunities rather than just attending networking events.

It doesn’t matter what sector, industry or profession you pursue, having many people in your professional and personal network is incredibly beneficial. These could be clients, professional advisers, suppliers, service providers or even competitors but irrespective of the part they play, as your relationships with them take root they will become invaluable sources of news, inspiration, ideas and – best of all – opportunities.

But I’m guessing while this will all make perfect sense, your next question is probably going to be “how do I build that network?”

Traditionally this has been where the networking event comes in. You’d go along to an event relevant to your job, market or sector. You’d meet people with whom you’ll have something in common. You’d then follow up with the person you connected with the most or the most interesting of the new contacts you’ve made before going to the next event.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach; it’s popular because it works. However, there are two problems with it. The first is that it doesn’t suit everyone and the second is that with the current restrictions in place, events can’t happen. This means that creating that all-important professional network requires a bit more creativity and that’s what I want to look at here.

There are ‘virtual’ networking events being hosted online via Zoom and Teams etc. but do they really provide an opportunity to meet on a deeper level and have a good conversation? Is it a natural way to establish the level of rapport required to create a new and potentially productive working relationship? I’d say not and that view has certainly been supported when I’ve been talking to clients about their networking efforts over the last few months. Here are 5 alternative ideas you could try:

  1. Where are your University crowd?

If you do a little research (nothing too MI5, a Google and a LinkedIn search will do the trick) you can find out where the people you knew at University are now working. If there’s any common ground, why not connect, drop them a line and then invite them for a coffee (maybe virtually) to catch up?

  1. What have you liked on LinkedIn?

If you’ve come across an article, blog or post on LinkedIn that you liked and that’s relevant to your job, connect with the author. When you do, just add a personal note to your invitation saying you liked their article and would welcome the chance to have a chat to find out more. And don’t feel awkward about doing this, you’re not being forward, this is exactly what LinkedIn has been set up to do.

  1. Who are your line manager’s top contacts?

If you’re chatting to your line manager about your business development plan, ask them who their top contacts are and if they’d be willing to ask their contacts if they have colleagues at your level that they’d be willing to introduce you to. The best working relationships are the ones where different people at different levels are in touch with each other so your request should be received positively.

  1. Whose names do you see on email exchanges?

If you exchange emails with certain people on a fairly regular basis or tend to see a lot of the same names copied in, why not drop them a line separately asking them if they’d like to meet up for a coffee or a virtual coffee so you can both put a face to a name? Again, you’re not being forward, you’re just making things more efficient as working together is always easier when you know each other.

  1. Who do you want to know?

If there is a business you think you should know more about? Take a look at their website and identify someone who is at a similar level to you and works in a complimentary role and drop them a line asking if they’d like to meet up to find out more about them and to discuss possible ways you may be able to help each other. When I suggest this to clients I am often met with a heady mix of suspicion and cynicism but if you think about it, the person you’re contacting will also have someone encouraging them to build their network so all you’re doing is taking the first step and making it easy for them. Anecdotally, this is always the approach that generates the fastest and most positive response.

All of these approaches will help you get your network up and running but once you start to make contacts you’ll need to decide which ones you want to invest in.

You don’t have the time to form strong relationships with everyone you meet so you will need to be selective. So here is my highly scientific (!) two-step filter. When you meet someone new ask yourself two questions; do you like them and could they potentially be useful work-wise. If you get 2 yesses, the relationship is worth progressing. If not, add them to your LinkedIn network and your businesses marketing database and let them come to you if they want to.

Once you have your ‘2 yesses’ shortlist, you need to ensure you follow up. This is the most important part of the puzzle. Without follow up, your relationships will never reach the point where they are providing the insight, introductions and opportunities you want them to. As it is so crucial, I shall share some practical tips and tricks you can use in the third blog of this series.

Written by Douglas McPherson, Director, Size 10 ½ Boots for NextGen and