How To Build A Strong Business Network

5 minutes   |  BUSINESS & MANAGEMENT

Over 50% of surveyed MBA graduates cite networking with classmates and alumni as their main tool when job hunting.1

Why? Because a strong professional network provides opportunities for learning, collaboration, growth and exposure.

A strong network also provides credibility. Whether you’re applying for a new job or your business is seeking to partner with another, the prospective suitor will do their homework. The larger and more influential your network, the more likely it will be for prospective suitors to find and be reassured by information about you.

The nature of your network also has a direct influence on your level of success. According to multiple peer-reviewed studies, simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success.2

Open networks are comprised of people who share little to no common connections with the other people in their group. This allows you to gain exposure to new ideas and opportunities, as opposed to hearing the same news over and over again.

In a closed network where everyone in your group knows everyone else, you’re constantly exposed to the same messaging and principles, and opportunities for development may become limited or repetitive.

Here’s how to build an effective, open and enduring network:

1. Join alumni groups (and other groups)

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Whatever the size of your current network, it could be considerably larger if you incorporated the many peer groups you’ve been part of throughout your life.

Join your high school, college, short course and even sports team alumni groups to instantly extend your reach.

If these groups don’t exist, create them. It’s possible to track down just about anyone through social media. Creating a group is as simple as defining which platform is more prolific with classmates, and inviting others to join.

Consider joining several LinkedIn groups as well. Those relevant to your industry and interests are a good place to start, and having valuable conversations in groups is a great way to meet and network with other professionals.

There are many reasons why you should join or start alumni groups:

  • You can stay connected to the latest trends in your industry
  • You are assured of the quality of your connections
  • You gain access to job and development opportunities with like-minded professionals
2. Build business connections offline
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Social events are one of the most natural ways to meet and network with new people, while helping you build tangible, human connections. But are you recognising the opportunities when they present themselves?

Treat networking, and social networking, like you would a meaningful friendship. When you forge these relationships, the concept of networking doesn’t exist. Instead of false handshakes, awkward communication, and empty promises, you’ll earn key business contacts you actually care about, and who care about you.

Struggling to open a conversation with someone? Try these three powerful networking questions to get start a connection and make sure you’re remembered:

  • How did you hear about this event?
  • What’s on your reading list?
  • What is your favourite thing to do?

These questions give the person you’re talking to an opportunity to open up to you by talking about themselves. You can also gain some insight into who they are, where they come from, and what they’re passionate about.

Once the event finishes and you’re back at home or your hotel, don’t immediately send a LinkedIn invitation. Rather follow up with more communication, either that night or the next day, and show your new connections that you are sincerely interested in them and that you paid attention to the small details of your conversations.

3. Enhance your communication and relationship skills

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To get ahead in your career, you need to enhance your skill set and industry knowledge constantly. The same applies to networking.

You need to learn and evolve in your ability to relate and convene with others continuously. Having an expansive business network is pointless if you’re unable to effectively communicate or nurture relationships.

Practice these communication habits next time you find yourself in a social setting:

  • Make mental notes of the projects and developments your colleagues and clients are working on
  • Work on your small talk by asking them about any progress they’ve made
  • Try to approach situations from different perspectives to better relate with your audience

While these activities may seem trivial and obvious, making a conscious effort to enhance them will have a profound impact on how you interact with others. Consideration, respect and interest will make your connections want to engage with you more regularly. The more they engage with you, the more you can learn and benefit from each other.

4. Get a professional coach or business mentor
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Numerous professionals employ the services of a business or networking coach. In addition to learning from someone who’s been there before, the opportunity to talk about one’s self and aspirations helps to sound out ideas.

Whilst your initial response may be to scoff at the idea, speak to people who’ve been coached and give it serious consideration before discarding the notion.

The Ben Franklin effect – a tried and tested psychological phenomenon – states that a person has a greater probability of liking someone for whom they’ve done a favour.3 They’re also more likely to perform a favour for that person in the future.

The moral of this phenomenon? Don’t be shy to ask for help or advice (provided it’s within reason) – it makes people like you more.

5. Stay relevant in your field or network
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Keeping abreast of industry insights and doing your homework makes you more useful to others, helping you maintain valuable network connections. For example, if you’re connected to a large network of finance-minded people, staying up to date with and sharing the latest news about global fintech innovations will increase the value you hold in a network.

Tip: Leverage this information within social or LinkedIn groups to make others want to connect with you, as opposed to you having to seek them out.

Staying relevant speaks to the growing trend of continuing education for working professionals. Gaining new and relevant skills makes you invaluable within your organisation, and to those within your network – again, driving others to network with you.

Studying an MBA is one of the best ways to build a strong, diverse business network that you can leverage for professional success.

Should you choose to take a professional development course, remember that in addition to gaining new skills and knowledge, every interaction presents a networking opportunity. One of the allures of an MBA is the opportunity to rub shoulders with future industry leaders.

If you’re not sure you’re ready for the time commitment and the financial investment of a full-time MBA, short courses can offer similar skills-gains and networking opportunities (in less time, at a fraction of the cost).

The University of Stellenbosch Business School – Executive Development’s 16-week MBA Essentials online short course offers both MBA-ready skills and the opportunity to network with likeminded individuals – both on the course and through LinkedIn and other channels.

Almost every interaction you have could be a networking opportunity – how will you prepare to make the most of your next one?


Want to network with future MBAs?

Find out more about the MBA Essentials online short course from the University of Stellenbosch Business School.

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GMAC
Forbes
3 Business Insider