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How to Develop a Networking Plan

How do you feel about showing up to a networking event all by yourself?  Are you comfortable initiating conversation with people you don't know?  Do you feel confident introducing yourself in a professional setting?  If you are looking for a job, there is no strategy more effective than networking.  If you aren't using your network effectively, it is going to be difficult for you to be successful.  Many people shy away from networking but the truth is that it can open doors for you.  If you would like to try networking but you aren't sure where to start, here are some tips to help you develop your networking plan: 

Determine your goals.  Why are you trying to expand your network?  Are you looking for a job?  Are you trying to break into a particular industry?  The more specific your goal, the more you can focus your networking efforts.  If you aren't that clear on your career goals, you can set a more general goal like "I am going to improve my professional introduction" or "I am going to become more comfortable talking to new people" or even "I am going to make connections and find out about opportunities in my geographical area."  What's important is that you set a goal as it will determine the type of networking activities you do.

Sign up for events.  Once you have a goal in mind, the next step is to find appropriate networking opportunities.  For example, if you are trying to enter the marketing industry, you would ideally target events centred around that industry.  Professional associations are a great place to start but you could also find general networking clubs in your area.  Keep your eyes open; any event where you can meet new people is a potential networking opportunity.

Focus on building the relationship.  Networking is all about building relationships.  The strongest networkers are the people who are always trying to assist their contacts.  When you are meeting a new person, take the time to get to know them.  Listen to what they are saying and see if there is any way that you can assist them.  It is equally important to nurture your existing relationships.  Reach out to your past colleagues and invite them out for a coffee.  It isn't enough just to know all of these people, you have to engage with them. 

Evaluate your LinkedIn presence.    When it comes to professional networking on social media, LinkedIn is where you should be putting your energy.  Take the time to review and evaluate your social media profile.  Look at the LinkedIn profiles of other people in your industry to see how it compares to your own.  Consider getting a professional headshot to further enhance your profile.  Once you are confident with your profile, try to make some new connections.  Join industry groups and participate in discussions online.  Try to spend at least ten minutes a day on LinkedIn liking and commenting on your contacts' posts and engaging with people.  If you are consistent with LinkedIn, it can help you build valuable connections. 

Create a great personal introduction.  Once you attend one or two networking events, it will quickly become apparent that you need a professional introduction.  When meeting you, people will quickly want to know who you are and what you do.  Some points to include in your professional introduction are your current job, your education, and your short term goals, or what you are hoping to accomplish from networking.  You will likely customize your professional introduction depending on who you are speaking with.  It's a good idea to practice your professional introduction a few times until you feel comfortable saying it out loud.

Try not to view networking as a chore.  Instead, focus on the opportunities that it provides for you to get to know people and to build new relationships.  If you put genuine effort into your networking and you focus on building strong relationships, the opportunities will come. 

(Written by Karen Bivand, mage by rawpixel.com)