Few IT professionals actually enjoy the process of professional networking outside of their core peer group. Indeed, you might have felt that the last business-networking event you attended was filled with sales people looking to sell you something, rather than serving as a sounding board for your ideas.
Regardless of past networking experiences, developing and maintaining a good professional network offers you many advantages such as access to critical information that may exist outside of traditional sources, and just as important, connections to a variety of professionals with skill sets outside your own.
Here are six relatively easy ways to help you build, expand and secure your professional network:
1. Make networking part of your lifestyle - Consider this: The average professional works about 2080 hours per year, approximately 65% to 75% of that time is probably spent at work, actively plying your trade for your company or your clients. That leaves precious little time for training and development, personal time, vacation, holidays, and personal time away from work.
So where does developing a strong B2B network fit in? Often times, it doesnt. Networking is like exercising: If you only do it for a little while, you will not see the fruits of your labor. Do it inconsistently, and it takes a while to get back into shape. But keep a steady pace, and over time youll begin to feel the benefits, and each workout will not be as difficult to manage. One meeting per week with the right person can set your professional world on the right trajectory. But unlike exercising, its more about quality rather than quantity.
2. Be strategic: target the people you want to meet and include in your network - Everyday encounters can lead to trusted business relationships. You never know where or when you will find a true business confidant. But what do you do if you are at the very beginning of your career or have never spent much time networking? If you are in professional services, you should ideally have a banker, lawyer and accountant in your initial networking circle for starters. A key reason is that every client has a banker, lawyer and an accountant -- all of who advise their clients on managing risk. Adding yourself to their networks helps them introduce qualified IT professionals such as you to their clients.
If you are employed by a company as an internal IT professional, then you will want to develop strong relationships with bankers, attorneys, accountants and all types of professionals who work in a similar industry to yours. These professionals can help you to understand how IT can provide strategic advantages from an industry perspective that you can share with your internal management teams.
3. Get out and meet people, but use your time efficiently - A number of traditional avenues exist such as professional associations in your industry, local chamber of commerce, special interest groups on the Internet, seminars and business referral groups. These are a good way to start obtaining business cards. The challenge, however, is finding a good match for you professionally. Additionally, attending the average networking event can take considerable time when you consider transportation and time at the event.
Here are three websites that can help you meet the right people more efficiently:
Wyrkplace (www.wyrkplace.com) is a free tool where the mission is simple: Reduce the amount of time that it takes to build a network of trusted relationships and help professionals establish an on-going process for meeting new qualified business professionals. Think of Wyrkplace as a dating engine for business professionals, matching you on ideal qualities. By signing up, you are automatically matched with professionals who share common qualities with you. The higher the match score, the better the chance that youre going to have something in common to discuss from a business perspective.
Business Networking International (www.bni.com) is one of the longest standing professional networking associations. BNIs chapters include professionals and service providers of all shapes and sizes catering to a wide variety of clients and organizations. BNI is an excellent source of business relationships, and you likely have a chapter in your town just waiting for you to join and add value.
Jigsaw (www.jigsaw.com) is another tool designed for helping professionals find new business relationships. While it is more focused on generating sales leads than pure professional networking, it offers powerful information on companies, people and industries -- critical information that can serve as the basis for developing targeted strategies on where to network and who to meet when you get there.