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Networking is one of the most important ways to build your professional capital and take your next step in business. Over the past few years, as I have been growing Roo Outdoor, I have learned how a solid network is integral to strategically positioning yourself and your company for future success. Maximize your potential and cultivate your network with these five tips.
1. Identify your influencers.
While filtering through your personal network, start by identifying your core contacts, people you know personally and are naturally willing to help. These are your soldiers. They should fully understand what you are doing and your end goal. While building a marketing campaign for my Roo Inferno’s Kickstarter launch, I personally contacted 30 of my closest friends and family to help me build buzz around the project. I asked them to forward emails, post pictures and tweet until their fingers fell off. It worked!
2. Capitalize on external connections.
Now that you have identified your influencers, is it time to tap into your external networks. Start looking into mutual friends, alumni networks and any other degrees of separation that could get you a simple introduction, thus creating your own network.
For me, my Northwestern alumni network proved to be the most valuable. I leveraged it throughout the entire length of my Kickstarter campaign, and continue to do so as I build Roo Outdoor.
3. Step out of your comfort zone.
This might be the most important facet of maximizing your network. Without it, you will not be able to grow your network into a self-sustaining asset. Recently, I attended and spoke at SXSW (South By Southwest) Interactive Conference in Austin, TX. The experience was amazing and totally new for me!
There were thousands of people at the conference from different industries and backgrounds, all looking to network and talk business. During my weekend at SXSW, I met and interacted with a diverse group of professionals, who allowed me to learn about new industries and really got my creative juices flowing about how I could advance my own business.
4. Ask how you can help them.
Don't make the mistake of thinking only about your own personal interest or agenda when networking. I have found that the most effective networking method is to ask what you can do for others, not what others can do for you. The connections you make, either business or personal, are more likely to help you in the future if you helped them in the past.
5. Always follow up.
There is no better way to close a connection than a simple email or hand-written note. Be impeccable with your word. For example, if you tell someone that you are going to reach out to him or her, do it. This will reiterate your commitment to the connection and allow for easier transitions in to future conversations.
As I continue to grow my personal network, I have gained many valuable friendships and relationships, which have propelled me both professionally and personally. Remember that every networking opportunity is a way to showcase yourself and your company. Take advantage of every occasion to meet a new person, learn a new industry and expand your web of connections.