Share Tweet Meet Joanna from the UK who helps build professional relationships via image and impact. Read the benefits of networking and tips on getting started. This could be true for lots of things in life but in this circumstance I am talking about networking. If you think about it, we are building our personal network our whole lives – those we meet at school, university, parties. However, how much thought do you give to building your professional network? I encounter and work with professionals at varying stages of their career and it’s interesting to see the conscious effort (or not) that people have made to build their network. Many successful professionals at senior levels credit networking as a vital contributor to their careers. So, when did they start? Networks tend to become most valuable when you are in a senior role, primarily because those roles almost always involve some business development; whether that be finding new external clients, joint ventures with other businesses or working with other business streams within a company to generate cross-selling opportunities. The problem comes if you find yourself at this stage but have not been building your network along the way. It’s very difficult to build one quickly. For connections to be valuable they need to be more of a relationship and relationships take time to build based on likeability and trust. So my recommendation is to start this as early as you can in your career. Early on, networking might mean just going to the quarterly drinks event, run by your professional body. In reality, the main appeal is likely to be the free drinks and food but this is a great opportunity to make connections for the rest of your career. As your career progresses, a wider range of events are likely to become options to you both internally and externally. Seek them out! I was facilitating a group in a large corporate the other week on the topic of networking. One of the senior leaders in the group explained that most of her current clients are contacts she made early on in her career. How thankful she is that she made time for networking. It makes her professional life so much easier now. It’s not just at this later stage that your connections will be valuable but throughout your career, the benefits include: • Peers to bounce ideas off of in terms of career direction • Peers to discuss work issues with which you may not want to discuss with anyone in your company • Peers who may know of roles available when you fancy a change • Peers who may become friends • And of course peers that could become clients in the future So my top tips for networking at the early stage of your career include: • Accepting event invites even if you’re not sure why you are going • Seeking out events in your company and externally • Connecting with everyone you meet on LinkedIn afterwards, no matter what. It’s much easier to contact someone that could help you later on if you are connected in this way, even if you’ve had no other contact since you met • Building a relationship with those you meet who you genuinely connect with, meet them for a 1-2-1 catch up coffee now and then. • Importantly, being as helpful as you can to your connections! If we’re honest, most of us would rather go home/spend time with our friends than network but it is worth thinking about the long term career benefits! It is an investment for the future. Also, if you start early on in your career, you will become better at it and it’ll become the norm. Photography by Annie Armitage 2014.