We’re all brimming with self-improvement intentions the first few months of the year. But as anyone who’s ever gone to the gym two days in a row or laid off the desserts for a week realizes—there is no quick fix to leveling up. It’s a process.
As is the art of networking. Even if you’re not looking for a new role at the moment, it’s important to begin building and expanding your network today to lay the groundwork for your future. If you’d like to add “being more strategic about networking” to your 2023 self-improvement list, here are a few tips for how to amp up your skills.
Level set on what exactly networking is
When you think of networking, does the image of hundreds of professionally attired strangers exchanging business cards and trading elevator speeches pop into your head?
That’s not entirely incorrect these days, but it’s also a limited perspective.
Marketing professional Amy Lee and husband Chris Lee, co-founder and COO of Neighbor, have their own thoughts on how to define the concept. For Amy, networking means connecting in authentic, mutually beneficial ways to create relationships and share information that, at times, can help one another.
Chris has a similar definition.
“To me, networking means forming and maintaining relationships with stakeholders in my professional circle,” he explains. “This includes suppliers, customers, peers and others. It’s about exchanging information, knowledge and best practices to improve processes, efficiency and performance.”
Consider incorporating more online avenues to your networking
Networking practices also have changed with the advent of new technologies. Early in Chris’ career, he focused more on in-person networking events and building personal connections.
“I would spend weeks on the factory floor fostering relationships and understanding processes,” he says. “But now, as the co-founder of a startup, I find that online networking platforms like LinkedIn and industry-specific Slack groups are an effective way to expand my network and stay informed about the industry.”
As a new mom, Amy says she will likely attend fewer in-person networking events and focus more heavily on Facebook, Slack and LinkedIn community groups.
“Motherhood has taught me these last several months to use channels like Instagram and Facebook not only as sources of information, but also as places to build networks of people interested in similar information,” she says.
The importance of continuous networking
Chris believes the right time to start networking in your career is as early as possible.
“It may take a few years to develop, but by consistently engaging with your network, it can become a valuable resource for your career growth and success,” he insists.
ForbesWomen contributor Cheryl Robinson writes that you’ll have a greater return on your networking investment if you take the time to get to know someone:
“Today’s society is about continuously fostering relationships through frequent coffee meet-ups, friendly emails and extensions of invites to events and parties. These are the moments when collaborations emerge and when personal lives are explored.”
Robinson also explains that “people support those that they believe in and trust,” which is why the strength of your network lessens when you approach it with a what’s-in-it-for-me mindset.
Amy agrees that networking is a two-way street. How can you both add value to one another’s lives?
“The best type of networking is building authentic, lifelong networks of people that have genuine care and concern for when you need something, or when you don’t,” she says. “Then you’ll be mutually willing to help one another when someone has a new job opportunity or major career pivot.”
Networking’s brass tacks
This Forbes article is teeming with ideas on how to expand your network this year. One offered by David Greenblatt of Albert Scott recommends “[using] social media to get out messages about your product features versus focusing on the competition.”
“Buyers today want to be educated instead of pitched,” he says.
Amy has the same philosophy: “I also share articles or information that I find valuable with my network through social, in emails or via text.”
Given the boundless reach of technology, Jennifer Coy of Beauty Care Choices told Forbes that networking no longer needs to have geographical constraints.
“Join a networking group that is slightly out of your area, like a chamber of commerce or a program for business leaders,” she advises.
Amy likes to reach out whenever a person from her network crosses her mind.
“I am a firm believer in the power of a phone call, handwritten thank you notes and a thoughtful message when something makes you think of that person,” she says. “Turning that thought into action leads to a moment of connection.”
Chris has seen it take flight in his own life: “From new customers to mentors, simply reaching out to people can result in wonderful outcomes.”
Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.