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By J.Swindell

How to build and maintain a network

In order to have longevity in any career, networking is the key to moving forward. While skills and advanced education are helpful, who a person knows can make a difference in opportunities that will come their way. The networking process is more than meeting new people; it's about making solid contacts for a long-term rapport that may benefit both parties.

Finding a networking resource

Trade magazines and books have listings for live events as well as virtual meetings. In some cities, live networking events may also be arranged through the chamber of commerce, community business development corporations or private organizations. For nearly two decades, social media has allowed many to meet and engage without leaving home. What started out as a new way to meet people has become a part of many marketing strategies for individuals and businesses. Additionally, most networking events cost little or nothing to attend.

Making the best of every session

After finding a few prospects and ensuring that membership requirements (such as number of years in an industry) are met, the next phase is to create a communication strategy. By taking inventory of what each session will entail, making a list of goals is imperative. There's no solid template but a person may have a particular company or two in mind or want to learn about a specific topic.

Creating an elevator speech is a simple process that involves sharing what a person has to offer in 30 seconds or less. Name, company name or industry, and what specifically a person does for the company is sufficient when meeting someone for the first time. Career changers may want to add briefly that they're looking to get information about a desired industry or position.

Often people confuse an elevator speech with a sales pitch, and begin the selling (of themselves or a product) immediately after the initial handshake. Before sharing, see if there is a rapport beyond the greeting. If there's no sign of interest or disinterest, ask permission to hand the individual a business card and only if the receiver says yes, briefly upsell services or skills.

Maintaining contacts and building relationships

While it may not be possible to "do lunch" with everyone a person meets at an event, it's good to drop a few kind words every so often. Either by email or sending a handwritten note via snail mail, people feel good when they know someone is thinking positively about them. If possible, sending trinkets, like promotional items, is a nice gesture that may serve a dual purpose – like an indirect sale.

Staying in contact is a great way to learn about changes within an organization or developments that affect daily operations. Since the 1960s, technology has changed how many work by making things faster or increasing productivity. However, it's a good principle to not divulge confidential information or anything that may damage one's reputation.

Making the best of every contact

Meeting new people can be fun and even if a person is limited to networking online, sitting down to talk shop can still have its benefits. As long as conversation is polite and not too aggressive, often people are happy to share information with anyone who asks. By doing this on a regular basis, it's easy to build an effective lists of contacts and resources suited to meet career needs.

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