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What is Professional Networking and Why is it Important?

What is Professional Networking and Why is it Important?
Sep 20, 2016 Posted by Anders Östlund
Professional networking is focused on interactions and relationships of a business nature rather than including personal, non-business interactions. Professional networking can take place in any situation, venue and platform or function both offline and online but there are many platforms and forums specialized on professional networking. This article aims to provide structure and arguments around the concept of professional networking and answer the questions: What is professional networking and why is professional networking important? This article was updated on October 15th 2017.

Professional Networking - Introduction

Professional networking has become a topic of great interest as business interests and networks become ever more international which require access to information on a level that random and close aquaintances cannot provide. 

The outcome from professional networking can be:

  • Job offers
  • Additional sales
  • Access to talent for recruitment
  • Offers as speaker, trainer etc for a fee or for free as further promotion
  • Insights into how things ‘really work’ inside other organizations or fields of business.
  • Higher social status and access to social events inside and outside the business sphere.

What Is Professional Networking?

“Networking is a deliberate activity to build, reinforce and maintain relationships of trust with other people to further your goals. Professional networking is simply networking focused on professional goals.” - Andrew Hennigan, Networking speaker, trainer, coach. Author of "Payforward Networking".

A very important part of professional networking is that it is about building relationships and trust, not just swapping business cards. For successful networking to take place a real relationship needs to be built.

Some examples of reasons people engage in Professional Networking include:

  • To gain access to information and tacit knowledge
  • To be perceived as the ‘top-of-mind’ expert in a field of business
  • To establish new professional relationships and to strengthen existing relationships.
  • To increase others trust in you and your trust in others.
  • To have a good time. Let’s be honest, this is an important reason too
  • To make sure other people know who you are, what you do, how you do it and what you want to achieve by doing it
  • Self promotion, the establishment of oneself as an authority

Networking is about real relationships and real trust, something that is very hard to establish in an online only connection.
Source: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/n/networking.asp

Having a network is not good enough; you need to continue to do networking to ensure your network doesn’t decline. 

Why Is Professional Networking Important?

"Nardi, Whittaker and Schwarz (2002) point at three main tasks that they believe networkers need to attend in order to keep a successful professional (intentional) network: building a network, maintaining the network and activating selected contacts. They stress that networkers need to continue to add new contacts to their network in order to access as many resources as possible, and to maintain their network through staying in touch with their contacts. This is so that the contacts are easy to activate when the networker has work that needs to be done."
- Source: "Nardi, Whittaker and Schwarz (2002)

"Networks deliver three unique advantages: private information, access to diverse skill sets, and power. Executives see these advantages at work every day, but might not pause to consider how their networks regulate them," Uzzi and Dunlap argue. They show in their research how developing diverse, rather than "self-similar" network contacts through shared high-stakes activities builds a more powerful network.
Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201201/why-networking-is-the-essential-professional-skill

Deborah Mills-Scofield, writing in the Harvard Business Review argues that networking has existed for the past 2000 years and it has enabled our survival. She postulates that networks promote new forms of communication, spread knowledge and therefore our networks need to be cultivated and treated well.
 

Top of mind

Memories fade over time, if you are eager to keep the position as the best remembered professional it is very important that you keep making appearances at events and are a very active communicator in the local network. When somebody in your network think about a certain profession or skill they should think of you and your company. To make sure that is the case you need to remind your network of your existence and brilliance, over and over again.
 

Case 1: The real estate agent.

I met a real estate agent some years ago. She was a very active networker and appeared at many of the events that I also frequented. Almost never did she talk about business and she never initiated a conversation about her profession and company but she was always very jolly and charming, a person it was very nice to converse with. Whether she was aware of it or not I don’t know but at one point or another the persons she frequently interacted with would ask her what she did for a living and she would quietly mention she was a real estate agent specialised in housing for newly arrived expats. As she always created a nice atmosphere around herself at the events, and as people always remembered her as such it was very natural for them to call on her about a new house when they had a new colleague arriving in the city. My friend the real estate agent was always on top of people’s minds when they thought about real estate, not because she kept pushing her business but because she made a positive impression and kept reinforcing that impression so people always remembered her and found it natural to use her services. She does very well professionally I might add.

Relations, relations and again… relations!

Your personal brand is only as strong as your relationship to the counterpart.

If you are eager to keep the position as the best remembered professional it is very important that you keep making appearances at events and are a very active communicator in the local network.

Networking is about creating relationships with your peers. Networking gives you an opportunity to actually meet your colleagues and exchange ideas and feelings with them – two cornerstones in the process of establishing trust.
 

What Impact Can A Large And Life-Long Professional Network Have?

Professional networking is focused on interactions and relationships of a business nature rather than personal, non-business interactions. Professional networking can take place in any situation, venue and platform or function both offline and online but there are many platforms and forums specialized on professional networking.

The outcome from professional networking can be:

  • Job offers
  • Additional sales
  • Access to talent for recruitment
  • Offers as speaker, trainer etc for a fee or for free as further promotion
  • Insights into how things ‘really work’ inside other organizations or fields of business
  • Higher social status and access to social events inside and outside the business sphere