4 easy ways to improve your professional network.

In an increasingly connected business landscape, it’s becoming easier and easier to expand your professional network. Long gone are the days where your only option was going to “networking events” and crossing your fingers. Social networking apps make it easy to connect with other people and can be a really powerful tool — if you know how to use them.

Most networking tools lack one major feature: specificity. Many people hate networking because it turns into a game of sending blind friend requests or making useless small talk with people who are are not necessarily the right fit for your network. In a world where technology can match you with your soulmate or teach you to play an instrument, it’s baffling how little intelligence our networking tools provide.

So what can you do to maximize the return on time invested while expanding your professional circle through quality connections? While you're working on your profile and portfolio, carrying business cards everywhere you go, and attending more network events, here are some extra networking strategies to help you focus on expanding a top-notch network.

Define your networking objective

We’ve all experienced this at some point — you’re fixated on something, and then you start to see it everywhere. Suppose you just found out what a Starfruit is, and suddenly every grocery store has them. Or you think about a song you haven’t heard in a while, and suddenly it’s playing wherever you go.

Well, the same basic principle applies to networking. Once you’re open to meeting a certain type of person or applying for a specific professional role, you’ll start to notice those opportunities more.

The key to filtering out networking noise is to define a clear objective. Why are you looking to expand your network? You may have several types of people you want to meet and create relationships with, but it may take different networking strategies to reach those different groups of people.

Consider your reasons for expanding your network:

  • Finding a new job
  • Generating more sales
  • Unlocking new business opportunities
  • Learning from others
  • Looking for investors or investment opportunities

Strengthen your professional presence

Making connections is a two-way street. Most of us spend a lot of time finding the right people to reach out to, but it's just as important to be the person others want to connect with. When your peers can see you are a true expert in your field, they will come to you or refer you to others. You may find that some of those connections who reach out to you are the ones you were seeking yourself and end up learning from the most. You never know when someone else’s expertise and experience can bring value to your own career!

Search the outskirts of your niche

Narrowing down your target networking pool can be a great way to implement different networking strategies and maximize their effectiveness. It may seem counterintuitive, but looking for people outside your niche to complement your business is beneficial in many ways. Those experts in other fields can offer different opinions, insights, and knowledge which you can apply to your own projects or organization. Broader networks can also provide opportunities within businesses or opportunities to explore new industries.

Follow up with your connections

Creating meaningful impressions and maintaining relationships is the key to networking. Establishing that personal connection can be as easy as sending a follow-up email or keeping up with others' professional milestones. Even if you meet people who have skills that are irrelevant to your current objectives, creating relationships can be beneficial later on. No one really knows what the future holds, which is why finding meaningful relationships with people already in your network is the best way to be proactive about your career.

But where to begin? Well, your communication history is a good place to start. If you think about it, the conversations you’ve had over time are pretty indicative of your relationships. Take a trip back in time, through your email threads. Keep a list of people you’d like to reconnect with, and score them based on how important the relationship is to you. (Or you could just use Trove, but that’s another story.) That way, when you connect with your top contacts on social media, you can start a chat or post to their feed — this ensures your relationship won’t get lost in the shuffle of email all over again.

So, let’s recap. Networking is hard. The tools we have can be too open-ended, or lack accurate information. But there are ways to make networking less overwhelming:

  1. 1. Network with a specific goal in mind. Staying focused helps you see valuable opportunities when they come along.
  2. 2. Make yourself visible. Establish your professional persona and go where the right people can find you — both online and off.
  3. 3. Think outside the box. Don’t pass on an opportunity to meet someone influential, just because they don’t work in your field.
  4. 4. Keep relationships fresh. Set up a system that helps you remember to reach out on a regular basis.

And the best thing about these tips? You don’t need to wait until you have a specific networking need to use them. Start reconnecting with people. Go where the opportunities are. Over time, if you’re diligent, networking won’t feel like networking at all.