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Effective networking can help you land a sale, find a better job or get you a promotion. Before you make the sale or get the job, however, you must first establish relationships -- and that is the core of networking. Whether through face-to-face personal contacts or connections made online, networking is your key to building a better future.
While your ultimate objectives in networking may be self-serving, approach the process with a broader vision. Networking is about building two-way relationships. Just as you want something from them, the people you network with will want something from you. Build relationships by sharing ideas and contacts on a mutual basis. It is on the strength of those relationships that you will ultimately get the sale or job. Relationships are not built overnight, however, and if you begin with a self-serving attitude, you will not be successful.
Where to Network
Opportunities to network are everywhere. Friends, family, coworkers, past employers and college alumni associations are good starting points. Make contacts through networking meetings, such as those sponsored by the chamber of commerce or local business associations. Find more contacts through meetup.com. BNI, Leads Clubs and similar organizations charge membership fees, but their focus is strictly on making contacts and building a network. With each of these organizations, the key to networking success is being active and sharing. Merely having your name on a membership list will not help.
LinkedIn is the networking site of choice for many professionals, but it takes time to use it effectively. When you ask someone to connect with you, take a few minutes to personalize the request. For example, enter a short message to inform the recipient about your common interests. Follow companies as a way to monitor the competition and connect with employees you might know. Join a special interest group to uncover more possible connections -- and networking possibilities.
Schedule Networking Time
As you build your network group, pay attention to maintaining and strengthening relationships. Schedule time each week for networking activity. Provide a service for as many as you can. For example, send a noteworthy newspaper clipping or article to someone in your network. Share links to your blog when the subject is relevant. Meet someone for coffee or post another person's link on your Facebook. Remember birthdays and work anniversaries. When you find ways to be helpful to others, you increase the chance that they may someday reciprocate.
Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.
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