Boss Up

7 Steps for a Powerful Network

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“Your network determines your net-worth.”

How many times have you heard that saying?

Although cliche it’s true that in the present economic times we live in we can’t afford not to have access to a growing network. A strong professional network is vital to the growth of your business or that next career advancement. For some, the art of networking is easy and for others they start to perspire at the thought of entering a room full of people whom they’ve never met–people with better business cards, a more extensive resume, and even a nicer suit.

In this article, I’m challenging you to step outside of your comfort zone to realize that “your attitude really does determine your altitude.”  Start with a positive outlook, whether you are an introvert or extrovert you will attract the right people and start building valuable relationships. There are many platforms such as The BOSS Network, (an organization for professional women), that you can tap into to get the ball rolling. Building a community of people who support you does take time, but there are some strategic ways you can get started with expanding your professional network.

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

1. Develop a Networking Database
In today’s market, success lies in learning how to maximize the return on your investment. Whether you are attending a local networking event or an expensive business conference, managing your network is critical. Keeping track of all your contacts is the start to building a strong network. Contrary to belief, having a shoebox full of business cards is not networking. Instead, take the time to survey your database to make sure that you know who each contact is and what prompted you to take his or her business card in the first place.

Action Steps: Create a spreadsheet with all the pertinent information from your business cards (name, business owned, place of work, title, contact number and email). Make sure you are putting key information in your notes section that shows the connection between you and the contact (i.e.: The school she attended, where you two met, his favorite book, etc.)

2. Cultivate Current Relationships
Start with what you have. Over our life span, we meet hundreds maybe even thousands of people. Many whom may know you very well and can vouch for your character, but may not know you’re looking for a job, trying to advance in your career, or that you’ve started a cupcake business. In order for your business relationships to bear fruit, you must cultivate and grow your existing relationships. This is a great time to update them on all the things happening in your life, you just may find that you are the perfect person to fill that position at their office or supply cupcakes for their next church meeting.

Action Steps: Create an email that outlines where you are in your life right now, what amazing things you are doing, and how you can be an asset to a potential investor. Remember, the best relationships are cultivated with time and effort. You may be able to develop a connection and turn a simple “contact” into a long-term client or maybe even a job referral.

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

3. Activate Your Social Networks
Do you have 800 Facebook friends or 600 followers on Twitter? How many of them do you actually know? How many of them actually know you and what you do? In 2014, I still hear people say they don’t want to use social media. Well, be prepared to be left behind. In today’s technology driven society, social networks are the perfect platform to promote what you do to an active audience. If you are an introvert, it’s the ideal place to start a conversation and then talk offline later when you feel comfortable.

Action Steps: Using social networks are about reciprocation. Start by following some key people in your industry. For example, on Twitter you can retweet (RT) someone else’s tweet. You could also comment on a Facebook post or feature that contact on your blog. This gets the ball of communication rolling and creates a shared interest on which to base the new relationship.

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

4. Create Your 60-Second Elevator Pitch
Have you ever tried to tell someone what you do for a living or about your online business, but when you did they looked at you like you were crazy? The truth is that you only have about 60 seconds to gain someone’s attention, and with all of the information we are inundated with on a daily basis, our attention span is decreasing. Here is a way to talk about what you do in a commanding yet simple way.

Action Steps:
Start by saying, “you know how some people have a problem with _________?”
Fill in the blank with the problem or challenge that you solve.
Then continue with, “well, I offer _________.”
Fill in the blank with how the problem is solved.
Do not describe your business or the process of what your product or service does.

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

5. Attend a Networking Event
Since this is a networking challenge, we would be remiss not to discuss how to effectively network. Networking should be fully integrated in every business person’s life. Yes, networking online is important, but I still believe in the traditional face-to-face networking as well. Be aware that any event can be a networking opportunity, but you must keep in mind your objectives so that you are not wasting your valuable time. It is not where you network, but it is more about what you do while networking.

Action Steps:
Be beautiful- when you look good, you feel good
Be confident- firm handshake and good eye contact
Be yourself- people can tell when you are not authentic
Be prepared- bring plenty of business cards
Be present- give whomever you are talking to your undivided attention

6. Follow-Up
The goal of networking is not to have a shallow encounter, but to build a lasting relationship that can become reciprocal. What’s the point of going to a networking event if you don’t follow-up with the people you meet? Meeting people is only the first step in networking, but by staying in touch you are showing that they matter to you and ensure top of the mind awareness. I believe I have had so much success with building my own professional network because I stay in touch. The fortune is in the follow-up.

Action Steps:
-Send a thank you card, email, or phone call within 24-48 hours
-Invite them out for coffee or lunch in the following weeks and make sure you pick up the tab
– Help them with something they need or introduce them to someone they can benefit from

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

7. Rest
Even God rested on the seventh day! Why is rest important? In order to remain healthy and sufficient, a day of renewal is necessary. We must set aside time to renew our spirits, to catch our breath, and to become a living being once more. One of my favorite quotes is from the “Master Networker” George C. Fraser, who said: “In between the promise and the payoff is the process.” Remember, the process only works when you work it.

Action Steps: Relax, renew, and rest.

About Cameka Smith

Cameka Smith

Cameka Smith is an educator, speaker and award-winning entrepreneur. She is the founder of The BOSS Network, a Forbes top 10 listed online community of career and entrepreneurial women, who support each other’s journey to success through professional development, online and event-based networking. Follow Cameka and view her member profile at The BOSS Network.