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How to Build and Maintain a Professional Network

  • By Ryan Skidmore

Built It

A well-connected network has been a key building block for creating an illustrious character for a novel or action adventure movie to the point of become a cliché. With good reason, its potential for moving the needle forward within any given engagement can be unlimited. Like most other powerful and unwieldy instruments employed by fiction, a generous helping of stylizing within fiction makes the real thing look lackluster. How to build it? First, start going to things. Undiluted networking events (the kind that have “networking” in the name) present an easy start. Go present yourself as the fleet manager or operations manager that you are and leave it at that. Networking events are notorious for “not leading to anything.” Finding clients or powerful connections is not really the end game for these. Next go to events were other professionals are, that don’t have “Networking” in their name or description. Connect with them as a person. See what else they are into. Are they going to any events this weekend or next week? These are the people you will stay connected with. Second, send cold emails to people you find interesting. If you read an article by or an interview with someone you find interesting or relevant to your position and industry, reach out. The chances of them reaching back out and some benefit coming your way are good. Doing this often makes the chances even higher. Lastly, join an org. A professional organization or the local chamber of commerce are filled with people looking to connect and make the most of their profession. Example, fleet managers likely join an org because they want to work their way to managing a fleet at a larger company. Going to their events will yield more mutual relationships.

Keep It

The saying goes, “the fortune is in the follow up.” Staying connected with your networkees is the real way to develop a well-connected, movie level network and yield the benefits. The question many ask is how. The answer is, all of the above. Email, phone, letters, social network. Send an email once a quarter or once a month. Schedule a call or lunch every so often. With the omnipresence of social media, passive follow up has never been easier. Following them on LinkedIn or Facebook and liking/commenting lightly should do trick. Stay top of mind, but not in their face. 30 minutes weekly on LinkedIn might be enough to nurture your million-dollar network. Also, use whatever they will respond to. Today, everyone has a preferred way to communicate. Conforming to that will win them. To take it to the next level use this model, Create Connect Consume. Create content in your space. It broadens your surface area. People knowing you makes you more valuable than others. Connect with other people in the space about the topic at hand. Consume other peoples’ created content. They have been consuming your content. Validating them will make you a more valuable connection. Each pillar feeds the other and all are needed for the model to run like a champ. Example, writing about your fleet management experience may help others. Also, commenting on a fellow fleet manager’s post will signal that you are in tune with their content. Hands down, the easiest way to network is following your interests and wearing your profession on your sleeve. People of all walks of life have hobbies and gather to practice those hobbies. Meaning just doing that fun thing will bring business owners, doctors, lawyer, and whatever else your way. Hiking, road biking, scuba diving, and Dungeons and Dragons can be your ticket to smashing your goals. Remember that content is key, so making sure your content is relevant and your responses to other’s posts are sincere and provide deeper insight, will assure that you will build a great network.

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