When people think of professional networking, they tend to conjure up images of men and women in ill-fitting business suits sipping cups of stale coffee in rather awkward conversations.
The truth is, networking comes in all shapes and forms – and it’s essential to your long-term success in any industry.
Yes, any industry.
It’s natural to wonder why networking is important – especially if you’d rather just be home with your nose in a book. Don’t worry: it’s much easier than you think but a little effort – and the right networking events – can go a long way.
What Is Professional Networking?
Professional networking isn’t about stepping on people to get ahead, actively scouting new jobs, or joining a bunch of professional organizations.
Networking is just talking about your industry and building meaningful long-term relationships with people.
We’ll get more into networking events later but take a look around you first. You’ll realize that networking opportunities are everywhere: as you take your coffee break, sit on the bleachers at your kid’s soccer game, or test makeup at your favorite counter.
Yes, attending events and joining organizations are both essential for career development but they’re nothing if you don’t actually speak to people about what you know and learn from them.
That’s why networking is important: it expands your possibilities for success in infinite directions.
So, What’s The Difference?
Professional networking involves speaking with people about your industry, life, what you do, and who you are. At the end of the day, you want to build mutually beneficial relationships.
Sometimes these relationships will be directly related to your career. Other times, you may find a new friend, IT buddy, or even an incredible stylist – but the relationship never would have existed had you not started talking.
Network marketing, on the other hand, is a specific type of business model that involves selling products to your network.
Why Networking is Important for Your Career
Still wondering why networking is important? Here are seven solid reasons why professional networking is crucial for building your career. Hey, you may even enrich your life along the way, too.
1. You Can Generate Leads and Discover New Opportunities
Companies spent over $20 billion on Facebook ads in 2018 for driving sales, increasing brand awareness, and you guessed it: generating leads.
The truth is, you can generate leads for yourself or your own business by simply getting out there and networking with like-minded people. Word of mouth is still arguably the most effective form of advertising because people trust information from other real people.
Hanging out on Facebook and LinkedIn won’t cut it. You need to get out there and meet people face-to-face.
Whether you’re interested in finding a new job, building your resume, or just meeting industry professionals with experience, you really can’t beat real-life networking.
2. You Can Build Professional Connections
Not every conversation will turn into a lead or life-changing business opportunity – and that’s fine. The best networking happens when you aren’t actively looking for new opportunities anyways.
Building professional connections will help you build your overall network. Someone always knows someone who knows someone.
Who knows, you may meet an entry-level worker at that big company you’ve always dreamed of working with. You may think “so what, they can’t help me” but that’s the wrong attitude to have about networking. That’s why networking is important: it’s about helping each other.
3. You Can Boost Confidence and Feel Comfortable
Some of you are social butterflies and some of you would probably be on the couch with a book instead of at a professional networking event.
Either of these is fine, and for those of you who tend to be introverted, attending a few low-pressure networking events can make a huge difference in boosting confidence.
If you’re feeling uncomfortable or don’t like speaking in big crowds, there’s a good chance other like-minded people will gravitate towards you at the snack table and spark up a casual conversation.
4. You Can Learn from the Success and Mistakes of Others
At networking events, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to sit back and listen to what others have to say. You’ll hear jokes, success stories, and yes, failures.
Wouldn’t it be easier to avoid an industry faux pas if you knew it existed beforehand? Networking provides ample storytelling time. The key here is to genuinely listen with an attentive ear and ask questions as much as possible.
5. You Can Get a General Feel for How Your Industry Operates
With the concept of company culture growing and workplaces quickly turning casual, it’s completely normal to be unsure of how your industry operates.
What do you wear? How do you speak to higher-ups? What’s appropriate and what’s not?
Even if you don’t speak to industry leaders themselves, networking events like conferences can help you understand the “vibe” of your industry and even different workplaces within your industry.
6. You Can Help Others Along Their Path
Everyone has problems – both professional and personal. Whether you’re talking to the CEO of a major brand or someone who just started yesterday, you have ample possibilities to help people.
There are questions only you can answer and problems only you can solve with your expertise.
No one will forget the person who helped them when they were down. Don’t let an opportunity to help someone else slip through the cracks. If nothing else, it’s the right thing to do.
7. You Can Make Friends
It sounds silly, but networking can help you make friends. The business world – in any industry – can feel like a cold and cut-throat place sometimes. It helps to make a few friends along the way.
When you make friends with people at networking events, you’ll be able to vent about stuff none of your other friends seem to understand because they don’t deal with it every day. That’s why networking is important for making friends.
How To Find Networking Events In Your Area
Now that you understand why networking is important, you need to find some great networking events in your area.
Yes, sparking conversations with people you meet at the coffee shop or soccer game is important but seeking out events filled with other industry professionals is the key to developing long-lasting business relationships.
- LinkedIn: See what other professionals in your network are doing. Maybe they’re attending a conference this weekend or kicking back at a local summer festival. Both of these are great opportunities to network.
- Eventbrite: Eventbrite and similar event websites are chock full of professional events. If you don’t see anything in your niche, expand a bit or look in the neighboring town.
- Facebook Events: Facebook has a dedicated app for events now where you can find what’s happening around you – an excellent tool if you travel.
- Google: Type your industry plus the word “event” and see what comes up. You may find hot stuff happening that you had no idea about.
- Professional organizations: If you’re a member of any associations or organizations, see if they’re hosting any upcoming events.
- Host one yourself: Don’t see anything in your area? No problem. Why not be the change? It can take a lot of work but hosting your own industry event is a huge networking opportunity in itself.
The Bottom Line
Professional networking helps you open yourself up to new business opportunities and mutually beneficial relationships. That’s why networking is important not only for your career but also your life.
Spark up a conversation with the person next to you at the coffee shop. Talk to the person behind you in line. Attend an industry networking event. Just don’t forget to carry a few slick business cards in your pocket and dress the part.