How To Build An Effective Professional Network

When you’re in business (and freelancers are in business), you build reputation through social and in-person networking. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a network is a group of people who are interconnected for the purposes of exchanging information, contacts and experience for a professional or social purpose. There is a great deal of permission in networking, in that those you’re connected to want to be connected, and vice versa.

While we often think of professional networking as joining organizations such as LeTip and BNI,  you can cast a much broader net and diversify your sphere of connections. Networking should be part of your marketing plan. Think beyond the usual networking organization and build your professional network using a variety of tactics. Have you added these 10 actions into your networking strategy?

  1. Join a trade association within the industry you are marketing to, and do more than attend meetings. Become involved on a committee, volunteer to help with an event, and participate in special interest groups. The more active you are, the more likely you are to gain contacts that can become clients.
  2. Participate in sub-groups and committees in your own industry trade associations. Build alliances with like-minded pros and work together for the betterment of your industry.
  3. Contribute articles to newsletters and journals of professional and trade associations. Pursue guest blogging opportunities in order to share information and expertise.  Connect with editors and other writers. Keep your ears and eyes open for relevant topics and pain points expressed by people in your industry.
  4. Stay in touch with instructors and mentors from college and and continuing education courses.
  5. Teach a class or a conference breakout session, or seek speaking engagements.  You’ll establish yourself as an expert, and people will seek you out.
  6. Enroll in courses and professional development programs to increase your skills and knowledge, but also to expand your network.
  7. Ask for recommendations and opinions from your network. Acknowledging that people in your network have information you value by asking their opinion does wonders for those relationships.
  8. Meet together regularly with a handful of contacts over coffee or a meal. Just getting together builds trust and mutuality. If your contacts don’t know each other, make introductions and help them connect.
  9. Invite your contacts to attend meetings and events with you. Hitting up a trade show or business expo together can cement mutual interests, which of course, build relationships.
  10. Be on the lookout for news of your contacts. From a work anniversary announced on LinkedIn to a book publishing or a family event, send notes of congratulations and encouragement. And always acknowledge good deeds, gifts and referrals with a written note of appreciation.

Building an effective network requires strategy and action, preplanning and follow through. It’s easier to build when you are intentional about it rather than letting things happen organically. For the freelancer who works solo, a good network provides opportunities for new projects, professional growth, resources, and business support. More importantly, it allows you to be the support and resource for others. Start building your network as early as possible, and continue to grow it as your business grows.

Your turn:

What are your top tips for building an effective professional network? Share your experiences in the comments.