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Supercharge your networking – more than swapping business cards

30 January 2020: we are often told about the importance of networking; it’s all about who you know, right? In the digital age with the ease of a LinkedIn request, how do you build those relationships? Rachel Underhill, ICAEW’s Business Strategy Manager, has some answers.

1. Make that LinkedIn request and continue to engage

If you’ve met someone at an event, always send a LinkedIn request with a note to say how it was good to meet them. Don’t stop there – use LinkedIn to stay connected as you would on Facebook with family. Engage with LinkedIn content, say congratulations on promotions and share relevant content with your contacts if appropriate.

2. Organise a follow-up date

If there is genuinely something you can learn from someone you meet, or if you have common interests, then meet for a coffee. If you’ve met someone more than once, it is easier to pick up with them in the future.

3. Build your profile

We can’t all be “influencers” but having a business social media profile that is up-to-date, and to which you post consistent content, will help people remember who you are. It makes it easier to connect with people within your network who you haven’t spoken to for a long time. A message out of the blue to say “I’m in your city next week, how about a coffee to compare notes on how politics are impacting our businesses?” will be far better received if they’ve seen you “out and about” on social media and you portray a relatable brand.

4. Create good habits, and work on them

Points 1-3 are all about getting into the habit of doing things. For those that don’t often use LinkedIn or similar professional networking sites, a simple weekly reminder in your work calendar entitled “networking follow-up” can do the world of good. Just 30 minutes on a Monday afternoon will do the trick. Use the time to look over who you’ve met in the last week, add them on LinkedIn, send messages to new contacts, skim other people’s updates and post relevant content. Busy on a Monday afternoon? Be agile – move this to another day.

5. Accept that sometimes you have nothing useful in common

But keep the connection anyway! You’d be surprised how often you can gain useful insights from people outside your remit. Make the connection, continue to build your profile, and see if there is something useful in the future.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask

If someone works in a field of interest to you, or you think there is something you can learn from them, don’t be afraid to ask to pick their brain about it. Most people are generally happy to impart their wisdom providing you aren’t using it for commercial purposes. Ask questions to upskill.

7. It’s not all about the work

I’m not suggesting you post about social matters on LinkedIn, but when talking to people at networking events, find out “who” they are: who they support in the Rugby World Cup, what kind of music they like, where they are travelling. It sounds obvious, but it makes building meaningful business relationships so much easier.