20 Networking Tips to Build Lasting Professional Connections

Businessmen shaking hands

Networking should always be more than just connecting with someone on LinkedIn. It should be your aim to meet other professionals in your industry and form bonds with them in an effort to mutually support each other and achieve your goals. Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur, unemployed or simply looking for better opportunities, networking can be a great tool for all professionals.

The tips below will help you up your game and ensure that you’ll shine at your next networking event.

1. Be authentic

The best networking tip anyone can give you is that you need to be yourself. Connecting with other professionals is for the long-term and you don’t want to base these relationships on a lie. Be authentic and genuine, and you’ll be able to create bonds that will last longer.

2. Identify your goals for wanting to network

No one wants to network just for the fun of it, so identify what drives you towards this direction. Maybe you want to test the waters before starting your own business, maybe you’re looking to get a new job. Whatever the case, write your goal down and remind yourself what your end-game is before you meet anyone new.

3. Follow up in the first 48 hours

Most professionals leave networking events with dozens of business cards but rarely follow up with them. However, it’s important that you encourage this kind of relationship-building because that’s what networking is all about. Send a quick email on the morning after an event or the day after someone’s accepted your invitation to connect on social media, and ask them a question that is meaningful. If you met them at a networking event, refer to something you talked about.

4. Make notes on the business cards you’re given

A great piece of networking advice is to take full advantage of each and every business card you’re given. Jot down what you and this person spoke about, where they work and what you promised to do for them or what they promised to do for you. This will not only help you remember but also allow you to follow up in a more meaningful way.

5. Give back

You’ve probably heard a million times that giving back is essential in networking. The key to do that is by thinking of what you can offer each person you speak to. So, for example, if you’re conversing with someone who’s just starting their business, think of your other business connections and see if you know anyone who could be of assistance to this young entrepreneur. It could be, for example, that you know of someone else who started a similar business and the two can benefit from exchanging information and tips. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it has to be something.

6. Have plenty of business cards with you

Surprisingly, this is the one print format that is not dead. As great as your profile on LinkedIn may be, nothing beats having something physical to give to someone you just met. There are lots of websites that offer cheap solutions, so there’s really no excuse not to spend a little to get something as professional-looking as possible.

7. Prepare a concise elevator pitch

Now, contrary to popular belief, an elevator pitch does not have to be overtly sales-y. This is especially true in this context where your elevator pitch’s goal should be to provide info about who you are and what you want to achieve. Don’t prepare a monologue and simply put together a couple of sentences that explain who you are (your name, job title and industry), your most recent or best achievement (signed up an X amount of money account to your firm last month) and what you hope to achieve through networking (get a client, test the waters for starting your own business, etc).

8. Acquire a diverse network

Although it can be tempting to focus on people in your industry, expanding your network and casting a wider net is highly recommended as you’ll make business connections that can come in handy at any given moment. Whether you’re thinking of starting your own business or considering freelance opportunities, you’d be surprised at how much most industries relate to one another.

9. Have a specific goal for each event

If you are an introvert, this is especially important as most introverts find networking hard. However, by setting up a specific goal for each evening, you can focus on that and have something to look forward to as soon as you achieve your target – leave. Your goal doesn’t have to be anything big; for example, it could be meet five new people in the industry’ or ‘meet two specific people’.

10. Tailor the conversation to your listener

A tactic that never fails, tailoring the conversation to the listener means keeping people interested for longer. If you can, look up the people who will be attending the event beforehand and make notes on topics you think they’d be interested in discussing. Once the conversation is at a good point, do not hesitate to suggest what you could do for them.

11. Ask open-ended questions

Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ because, in all likelihood, that’s how they’ll be answered, especially if the person you’re talking to is a bit on the shy side. By asking open-ended questions, you’re ensuring that they’ll start talking and relating a story. This will help you understand more about them and it will allow you to understand if there’s something that this person can do for you or if there’s something you can do for them.

12. Arrive early

A great piece of networking advice is to arrive to events early. Being fashionably late will cost you the opportunity to talk to more people as the later you arrive, the more likely it is that people will have already found a talking partner and will have also formed their own little groups. Get there early so that you can meet more people and talk to them in a more meaningful way.

13. Be enthusiastic about your work

If you’re attending a networking event, chances are you’re someone who’s interested in their career. As such, the best networking tip you can get is to be enthusiastic about your work when you speak to someone. People will remember your excitement and they’ll be sure to mention it when they refer you over to other professionals. Being passionate about your work also shows that you care, which makes you far more interesting to talk to.

14. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to network and meet people that can help with your career advancement. From making connections with the people running the not-for-profit you’ll be volunteering with to forming relationships with the rest of the volunteers and donators, volunteering is a unique opportunity to connect with others while doing meaningful work.

15. Organise your own event

Clearly, this is not as simple as it sounds and you’ll need to attend quite a few events until you can successfully host your own. Of course, organising your own event doesn’t have to be formal; you can simply invite a few people you know to your local pub and ask them to each bring an X number of professional acquaintances. The idea is to get to know the friends of your friends, so keep it simple and you’ll definitely be able to meet some interesting people.

16. Show that you care

Ensuring that the people you’re talking to have your undivided attention is a necessary means to an end. Don’t get distracted while talking to someone and don’t interrupt them to talk to someone else. This just shows bad manners. Also, make sure that you don’t talk so much about yourself and your accomplishments that you don’t let anyone else speak about theirs.

17. Use social media as your search engine

Another great networking tip is to research fellow professionals and decide who could potentially help you achieve your goals and then contact them. Platforms like LinkedIn let you search for people based on their job titles; you can then have a look at what these professionals publish or seem to be interested in (eg: via groups) and send a connection request. If they accept, ask them to go out for a coffee or get together for lunch.

18. Use keywords

Keywords can let you be more specific when talking to someone else which means that you’re essentially helping them remember more about you next time they meet someone who could potentially be of use for you. So, rather than saying that you ‘write articles’, for example, say that you do ‘financial content’. That way, you’re making your job title and industry more memorable.

19. Prepare a few icebreakers

It can be difficult to get the conversation going, especially if the person you’re talking to is a complete stranger. However, by preparing a few icebreakers, you will be better equipped to deal with these social situations as awkward as you may find them. If you can, find out who will be attending the event and try to do some background research on them – this will help you come up with more inventive icebreakers (eg: congratulate someone on a new job, etc.). If you can’t, simply identify a couple of topics everyone loves.

20. Dress to impress

Obviously, you’re going to go with professional attire, but much like attending a job interview, a networking event means that you need to pay attention to details. Make sure that your clothes are clean, stain and wrinkle-free, and that they are elegant without giving off that strictness that is often common in business suits. Dare to wear a more colourful tie or to let your hair down because you want to emit friendliness.

The networking tips above will help you make build a more effective professional network, which can significantly benefit your career. You should remember, however, that nothing can be achieved if you don’t believe in yourself and you are not confident. Respecting yourself and knowing what you can bring to the table are great places to start admiring yourself as a professional.

Do you have any networking tips that were not mentioned here? Let me know in the comments section below.