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Whether you’re the founder of a startup or a seasoned executive, your professional network plays a pivotal role in your ability to succeed.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • A Harvard researcher found that the greatest predictor of your success is the quantity and qualities of the people around you. When you surround yourself with smart, driven people, you learn from them and it makes you more effective.
  • 45% of non-entry-level jobs are filled via referrals. This has changed the hiring landscape for both employers and job-seekers.
  • According to McKinsey, referrals drive 20-50% of all purchasing decisions. Thus, one of the most productive ways to grow your business is to build a strong network of people who will refer you customers/clients.

Networking is clearly critical, however, for many professionals, it’s the most challenging aspect of achieving their goals. These five proven and actionable networking strategies will help drive your success.
Photo of people networking at a conference

 1) Read Often and Broadly

Reading is one of the easiest and most underestimated networking strategies. Doing it often makes you a more effective networker by:

  1. Giving you the knowledge to connect with people on a variety of topics.
  2. Making it easier to follow-up since you can send people content that appeals to their interests, goals, and/or business challenges they’re struggling with.

To obtain the full benefits, you need to expand your content consumption from just your favorite blogs and news sites to a a broad array of topics that may appeal to the varied interests of the people you meet. The easiest way to do this is via content discovery tools.

Here are some popular options:

  • Pocket - This bookmarking tool suggests new content based on the content you save and your selected interests. It also provides a distraction-free reading interface.
  • Refind - The purpose of this app is to help people discover content that is truly relevant to them. It uses an algorithm to learn what matters to you and curates content from a variety of sources.
  • Flipboard - This app has an interface that’s similar to medium with a variety of curated content and independent magazines. It also allows you to bookmark and share content you find on elsewhere.

Keep in mind that it’s not just educational, nonfiction content that’s worth reading. There is immense value in reading character-focused fiction and nonfiction stories.

Studies show that reading stories about people improves your emotional intelligence. When you envision the scenarios people undergo in stories, your brain lights up as if you were experiencing the events yourself. This increases your empathy and general ability to relate to other people by exposing you to a wider range of circumstances and emotional responses.

Action Steps:

  • Schedule time to read every day. This can be on your commute or other small blocks of time that would otherwise be unproductive.
  • Bookmark content that’s relevant to your connections and share it with them when you follow-up.

 

Read More: 5 Time Management Strategies that Will Unlock Your Productivity

 

2) Be Highly Intentional About Your Body Language Cues

Studies show that body language accounts for about half of the messages that we communicate with other people. When you’re strategizing about ways to grow your network, you need to consider how your nonverbal cues are affecting people’s perception of you.

Here are some body language tips from the Global Listening Centre to get you started:

  • Keep your body open - arms at your sides, feet shoulder width apart and head at the eye-level of those you’re speaking with. Open body language gives other people the impression that you’re relaxed, confident, and approachable.
  • Show you’re listening - tilt your head, face your body toward the person you’re talking to, slightly lean in, and nod your head when you agree and/or are intrigued by points they’re making. These actions subconsciously tell the other person that you’re engaged with what they’re saying which makes the conversation more enjoyable.
  • Mirror their emotions - People naturally want to feel understood. One of the easiest ways to make them feel that way is to mimic their body language. For example, if they’re talking excitedly about a new project they’re working on, share their excitement by adopting a similar tone of voice and a smile. Or, if they’re stressed out, connect with them via a sympathetic expression and softer tone.

Keep in mind that these actions are just a starting point. To build be successful at networking, you need to have a strong understanding of the subconscious factors that drive your interactions with people.

Here are some resources to help you learn new networking strategies based on body language and other psychological principles:

  • [Book] What Every Body is Saying - This book is written by a former FBI agent who specialized in reading people’s body language. It contains a comprehensive overview of body language cues.
  • [Online Course] The Secrets of Body Language - This short course is taught by the behavioral science expert, Vaness Van Edwards, and will teach you how to master your body language to become more successful in every area of your life.
  • [Blog] The Association for Psychological Science’s “Minds for Business Blog” - This blog features articles that explain how to apply the latest psychological research to become a more successful professional.
  • [Podcast] The Science of Success - This podcast teaches you success strategies that are based on psychological principles and scientific evidence.

As you learn more about body language, you’ll figure out which tactics feel most natural for you to use.

 

3) Strive to Learn People’s Stories - Not Just Share Your Own

Often, when people start focusing on improving their networking strategies it’s because they need more connections to achieve a business goal - earn more sales, attract investors, recruit better talent, etc. While these are all great times to start networking, these goals often inhibit people’s success.

If you approach every person you meet focused on telling them about yourself and convincing them to give you what you need, you’re going to fail at networking. To successfully develop new connections, you need to be genuinely interested in getting to know the people you meet.

A Harvard study found that talking about ourselves activates the same part of our brain as sex, drugs, and eating delicious food. When you ask questions to encourage people to share their story with you, it creates an enjoyable interaction for them and helps them remember you in a positive light.

Plus, the more you learn about people in your first interaction, the easier it is to foster a lasting connection with them. Gaining a deeper understanding of people’s work and interests gives you a variety of topics you can follow-up with them on to continue your conversation.

Action Steps:

  • When meeting new people, ask follow-up questions to learn more about their roles and interests.
  • Follow-up with them based on the specific things they mentioned in your conversation.

 

Read More: 5 Ridiculously Useful Ways to Leverage Your Assistant for Networking

 

4) Make Networking a Regular Part of Your Weekly Routine

Successfully establishing a strong professional network requires a significant time and energy investment.

Meeting new people is easy. The challenging part of networking is maintaining relationships with all of your new contacts. To do this, you need to put systems in place to ensure you stay in-touch.

Here are some networking strategies to help you foster lasting professional connections:

  • Attend one to two events per month. This ensures you’re constantly broadening your network.
  • Choose a method to take notes on everyone you meet. Options include a spreadsheet, note app, or a CRM. Taking notes following all of your meetings with new connections is an important networking strategy because helps you remember key details that you can use to sustain authentic conversations.
  • Set up a follow-up cadence to ensure you stay in touch. When life gets busy, it’s easy to forget about the new connections that you make. To prevent that from happening, either use a CRM or your calendar app to set up a cadence of following up with people.

 You should have two types of cadences:

The first is for connections who have something important and time-sensitive coming up. For example, a new product launch, a vacation, or something else with a specified date.  Set a reminder to follow-up with them after those events occur.

The second is for people without anything big coming up. Put a note in your calendar or CRM to follow-up with them every four to six weeks.

Having follow-up notes in your calendar prevents you from losing touch with valuable connections.

Action Steps:

  • Make a commitment to attend one to two events per month.
  • Set up a method to take notes on all of your conversations
  • Set up a follow-up cadence.

 Read More: Personal Productivity is the Key to Meaningful Success. Here's How to Improve It

 

5) Offer Help as Often as You Can

 If you’re networking because you need something - referrals, investors, a job, etc. the most effective strategy to obtain it is to offer people favors first. Thanks to the reciprocity principle of psychology, most people feel a strong need to reciprocate when someone helps them.

Helping people doesn’t always have to be time-consuming. There are plenty of quick ways you can offer other people value. Here are some ideas:

  • Make introductions for people who would benefit from knowing one another
  • Refer people clients
  • Offer to look over projects that you’re an expert in and your connections need help with
  • Send people articles and other resources that will help them achieve their goals
  • If you have a strong social media presence, share messages that your connections want to get out. Ex. they’re trying to fill a job position or are promoting something about their business.

Whenever opportunities arise for you to help a connection with tasks that aren’t overly time-consuming, take advantage of it. It’ll make your networking efforts worthwhile by incentivizing people to return the favor when you need help.

Action Steps:

  • Take advantage of easy opportunities to help your connections.
  • After you’ve helped people, ask for favors that are comparable.

 

Need Help Building Your Network?

If the amount of work required to implement the networking strategies in this article sounds daunting, consider hiring a virtual assistant. They can do all of the heavy-lifting including:

  • Identifying events you should attend
  • Finding opportunities for you to meet with current and prospective connections
  • Creating and managing your follow-up cadence
  • Maintaining notes about all of your connections
  • Managing your busy calendar
  • Completing a wide variety of admin tasks so you have more time to spend networking.

Action Step:

 

About the Author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.

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