The Career Lifter: Combining Old Practices with New Techniques to Expand your Network
Today’s professionals are caught in an era of confusion. It’s essential to embrace new technology, or you’re obsolete. But “old school” is still important — until it’s not and you’ve just aged yourself and looked “uncool.”
So how do you walk the fine line of cutting edge and retro?
Well, like fashion and decor, you just have to know which old practices are outdated and which will never go out of style. Then, take those classics and combine them with the new techniques that help you improve your professional persona.
This is very important when it comes to networking — one of the best ways to expand your pool of career opportunities.
Your network isn’t for just your business associates. It’s anyone you know, and then everyone they know.
If you’re not strategic about building these connections, you’re missing out on opportunities that could be major. In order to expand your network and make the most of it, use these strategies to combine old-school with innovative techniques.
1. Develop Your Brand
Even if you don’t have a business, you should have a professional brand identity. This is a business strategy used by some of the most successful professionals in the world, and it can make or break your reputation.
Visual representations, or symbols, are the oldest form of communication. From ancient cave paintings and hieroglyphics to Instagram posts, humans have used images to tell their stories for millennia.
So, what’s the story you’re trying to tell your target audience, and what pictures will you use to do it?
Image Is (Almost) Everything
Think about some of the biggest companies in the world, like these:
What do you picture when you hear their name? What are they known for? Chances are, the first thought that crossed your mind for each company was their brand/logo.
Reputation is as old as time and still just as relevant. To cement yours in your industry, you need a brand that people can associate with your business.
As you attempt to develop this visual representation of your product/service and reputation, don’t rush it. Ask yourself how the people in your circle perceive you. Hone this image and then develop it across all your social media.
Even though this strategy is as old as human time, today’s techniques make it easier for you to build just the right image.
You can search your competitors online to see how they present themselves, then use that info to build your own brand.
Related: 5 Common Virtual Networking Mistakes to Avoid
2. Build Your Communication Avenues
Remember, you are not the only person in your career building a network. You might have the best product or service around, but your job is to convince others of that fact.
For this to happen, you have to be different from everyone else who tells them the same thing. If you want to stand out from the competition, communication is the key.
Technically, as you attempt to build a network in order to promote your business, you’re involved in what is known as network marketing.
This term is often used to refer to direct sales businesses, which is accurate but not all-inclusive. You’re marketing your business via an extensive network, and there’s an art to that.
The Art of Human Behavior
To be successful in networking, you have to know the basics of human behavior. It’s a mix of psychology and business-minded thinking, but it all boils down to one factor:
Humans interact differently with each person. When you know their core communication language, you can reach them on that level and connect with them stronger.
This is the science of psychology. It’s so accurate that it’s used by the government in personality tests to match people to jobs.
You, too, can become a professional human behavior analyst by studying up on this science. There are a lot of resources out there for you to use, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Some of the more popular networking books about human behavior include:
As you learn how your clients think, you’ll be able to create a closer bond with them. This helps you earn loyalty because it’s not something everyone does.
It’s normal to look for the cheaper route to the same solution. But when someone has a connection with the person they’re already working with, they’re more likely to see the value in paying more.
These books are helpful for networking with colleagues, too. Build connections with those in your network so they think of you any time they need what you can offer. If a friend or family member needs your services or hears about a relevant job opportunity, they’ll think of you.
Communication avenues are a mix of good old phone calls and thank-you notes through technology like social media messaging and texts.
3. Take Advantage of Online Networking Opportunities
Up until the early 2000s, networking looked a lot different than it does today. You had to know someone who knew someone, and even then, it was hard to pin them down for a call.
Now, all you have to do is find their social media page and shoot them a message or friend request.
The problem with the ease of this networking avenue is that so many people mess it up. They jump in without tact, getting straight to the pitch instead of finessing the prospective client. This tactic rarely ever works and usually drives people away entirely.
You can use the multitude of online networking opportunities in your favor. You just have to avoid those amateur mistakes.
Using Your Online Resources
From childhood, we’re taught to use our resources! If you don’t know how to spell a word, use the dictionary. If you need a synonym, use a thesaurus.
Now, if you need to build a network, use your online resources.
Going straight into social media can be overwhelming. Unless you already have a strong online presence for your business, this isn’t the best way to start.
Instead, research networking organizations and meetings near you. Go to an in-person social event and win people over the good old-fashioned way: with your personality and knowledge.
Today’s resources, like MeetUp and Eventbrite, are the perfect way to track down future additions to your network. All you have to do is create a profile, check the notifications of future events, and RSVP for the ones you want to attend.
When you get there, the tried-and-true practice of socializing is now up to you.
Use your powerful and unique combo of knowledge, politeness, and confidence to connect with others.
Not everyone has that innate extrovert confidence, though. If you’ve always been more of a wallflower than a social butterfly, there is a lot of advice out there geared towards networking for introverts.
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4. Stick to the Classics: Join a Professional Organization
Professional organizations have been around for centuries. Chambers of Commerce, for instance, have been around for centuries.
These entities knew the importance of solidarity and networking. They established groups to connect with others with the same interests.
Professional organizations look a little different now, but the idea of them remains the same. They’re an interconnected web of groups and individuals with similar interests and skills.
Types of Business Networks
You can take advantage of already-formed relationships by joining any groups that align with your business goals. Find the professional groups that would attract those you want to have in your network.
As you search for establishments to connect with, you’ll start to get familiar with the different types of networks that exist. You don’t have to link with all of them. Make sure the group’s mission and guidelines match your lifestyle.
The most common types of business networking groups include:
The most common and easy-to-join groups are casual. They are a mix of people from many professions who get together informally. The intent is usually to promote local businesses.
Your local Chamber of Commerce would be a great place to meet others who could extend your network.
Contact Referral Groups
These groups are composed of people who purposely choose to represent each other. You and the others in your group carry each other’s business information around and promote one another whenever possible.
You won’t form as many connections here as you will in a casual group, but the intent to generate referrals is much stronger.
Every industry has a professional chapter that offers memberships. The mission of these groups is to promote cross-knowledge among members.
The group members are required to have certain credentials to join. Knowing this, you can target potential clients more specifically.
Pro tip: Don’t just look for people in your current industry. Connect with people from other industries that you may be able to help (or vice versa) in the future.
5. Give Back to the Community
Volunteering for a good cause is quite possibly the most altruistic way to build a network. Helping others while building professional connections is a win/win situation.
Don’t feel bad if you go into your volunteer mission with an agenda. You might start out with an underlying reason for your good deeds. But once you’re there, you’ll see that philanthropy makes you feel good.
Joining Service Groups
Community networks are the place to get started if you don’t already have a plan. There are multiple service groups in most communities — you probably haven’t heard of them yet.
Once you start researching the best places to volunteer your services, you’ll learn about a lot of problems that need solutions. It might seem like you can’t offer much time from your busy schedule, but every extra hand helps.
These service groups are designed to help the community. As you give your time and skills, you’ll also build contacts. The more consistent you are, even if it’s just a few hours a month, the stronger your networks will become.
The trick is to make sure your intent is to contribute to the cause. If you benefit from it as a byproduct, that’s great! Don’t give up helping because you think those around you aren’t your target audience. That’s not the point.
By doing your good deeds, you’re building social capital. This isn’t direct cash, but it’s an economic principle with solid roots. The relationships and networks you build have a dynamic impact on the success of your business.
The passion that shines through while you’re helping others leads to connections that will solidify your network.
See also: 7 Tips from the Pros to Land a Job After Graduation
If you haven’t learned how to embrace the digital era yet, it’s okay! No matter what anyone tells you, you don’t have to go full-on virtual with your business.
Keep those tried-and-true actions that you know work. Slowly bring in what you can from some of the newer techniques as you’re ready.
Through a mix of old-fashioned practices and new technology, you can create your own unique action plan. A framework that is uniquely tailored to your business is the surest path to success.