Maintaining your professional network (both virtually and IRL).

Networking, staying connected, maintaining a professional network – it’s all just shorthand for chatting with people that we like and who inspire us. Not to mention remembering to inspire others, too!

So why do we sometimes forget to connect? Or keep putting off that Zoom check-in? The answer is not so simple. We’re busy, we’ve changed careers, and we’re seriously over Zoom. It could also be that you’re not sure how to start a convo, or what to bring to the table. These are all real reasons, but luckily there are some very real ways to stay connected no matter where you are in your professional journey. To get you started, here are our favorite ways to maintain your professional network (both virtually, and IRL).

Boy trying to figure out his schedule.

Make a plan to stay connected.

A good way to stay connected with your network is to set a time or day that you will reach out, meet up, gab on the phone, or maybe even go to an event! 

Some people instinctively check up on everyone they know each week, while other people need a reminder. Both types of networkers, and everyone in-between, will benefit from a plan to manage time and make sure you are actually strengthening connections. 

Start by determining how much time you can commit to each week. When are you actually free to meet-up, or Zoom? Figure out what works in your schedule. You’ll be much more excited to connect with work friends when you aren’t stressed about projects or meetings. 

Examine your existing obligations as well. Who has reached out to you lately but you haven’t been able to chat with them? Get these meetings on the books first. Remember, half of the networking is giving your time away as well, so it’s important to fulfill existing obligations before scheduling new ones. Good karma, too! 

ProTip: If you find that you never really feel like Zooming after work, see if your colleague will meet for a morning Zoom coffee. Or vice versa. It’s all about making networking the best for your workday.

Man contemplating.

Do an inventory. 

Making a list of who you actually need to connect with and why will give you a clear focus when reaching out. 

Our professional networks are constantly changing. We change jobs, move to new cities, and sometimes we even switch careers entirely. We also grow as people, and the people around us change and grow at the same time. Basically, there’s a lot of change going on, and we should take note of that before we connect.

Consider who will add a new point of view to something you are working on or help you gain insight. If you are going through a career change, talk to people that have done the same thing. If you notice someone in your industry innovating in interesting ways, check in to find out more. One of the best parts of networking is that we get outside our bubbles and learn new ideas. 

But most importantly, talk to the people you simply like talking to, regardless of where they work, what they do, or how long it’s been since you’ve connected. If you always like chatting, then in some way they will help you reach your professional goals. Sometimes the best ideas happen just from having a good laugh with a friend.  

A group at a conference, looking to network.

Go to an event! 

Events are the perfect place to meet tons of like-minded professionals that are all in network-mode. 

Catching up with work friends is usually just a small part of our day, somewhere tucked in-between actual work, meetings, and the rest of our lives. Events are where we can flip the script. It’s when we don’t have to sit at the computer and can focus solely on getting face-to-face. 

Now, this doesn’t mean you should go to an event with the goal of networking with everyone. You should still focus on meeting people that can inspire or motivate your immediate professional goals. Or help inspire whatever career journey you are embarking on. 

Do some research before the event. See who’s in the same sessions as you. Reach out thoughtfully and build new connections on shared interests. Also, make sure not to overbook meetings. Give yourself the time you need to connect with people and build lasting business relationships. 

Woman talking to another person.

Keep up with social media.

Sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, are an instantaneous way to stay in touch with what people are up to in their professional lives. 

We all know social media is not “real.” It’s a bit of a touched-up version of ourselves. But there are still some sincere ways to make new connections on social channels. It just depends on how and where you connect with people. 

Our favorite way to connect is with professional groups on LinkedIn and Facebook. Here you can post articles related to your field, ask for advice, give advice, or simply keep track of the conversation. It’s almost like a small virtual event that you can step into anytime, anyplace. 

Keep in mind that you should always post, comment, and message with a purpose and insight. Just flooding the social media zone with your posts and messages can actually have a negative effect when trying to make real connections online. 

Can’t find a professional group that works for you? Just start your own! Invite the people you know and grow your network from the ground up! 

Two men walking and talking.

Suggest a walk and talk (or similar activity).

A walk and talk will get the creative juices flowing and keep the conversation light and energetic. 

Sitting can feel formal, like an interview, or business meeting. Walking and talking gets us out of office mode and into a more relaxed and creative mindset. Think about it, what would make you feel more creative: A 3 pm Zoom? Or a 3 pm walk on a sunny day? The walk sounds way more enticing to us. 

A walk is also a great meeting idea at events. There are only so many coffees and drinks you can consume to catch up with people. Instead, plan a time for a walk. Maybe you can both walk to the venue, or get out of the event and explore the city, or just plan to take a 10-minute lap around the event floor. 

For people that you know well, you can also suggest a hobby you share. This could be running, golfing, or even inviting them to your pickleball league! Try to think of an activity that allows you to chat a bit, but stay active, and will keep the meeting light and productive. 

Man boating alone.

Talk about more than work and jobs. 

When meeting with work friends, especially new ones, it’s important to create a connection that goes beyond work life. 

Work is work, even if you love what you do. Real connections are formed on the things that we enjoy when we are off the clock. These are our hobbies, personal goals, or all the things that recharge us when out of the office. 

Learning about people’s personal backgrounds will also help you connect over professional topics or new work opportunities. For example: if your colleague is an avid runner, then you know you can connect over any running or fitness-oriented projects you are working on now or in the future. 

Event planners especially should focus on connecting with people on a more human level. Firstly, because you’ll create stronger friendships, but secondly because they might actually be the perfect person for a panel you are putting together. Or even a keynote. You never know!

Man talking with another man.

Bring value to the connection.

For your network to thrive, you have to bring value to the people you are reaching out to, as well as the people that are reaching out to you.

It’s all about being generous. If someone asks for your thoughts on a proposal or project, then create thoughtful notes that will help them on their journey in some way. You don’t have to agree with everything people send you, but there should be positive parts that you can highlight to encourage their work.

When reaching out to new people, or reconnecting, make sure you have something you are bringing to the table. Maybe it’s creative ideas or business connections. But even just positive and supportive energy is enough in our book!

Again, you’re only 50 percent of the networking equation, the other half is working on ways to help other people’s professional networks. 

Maintaining your network should be rewarding and fun! 

Staying connected to people should make you happy, and keep you energized both professionally and personally. 

Finding times that you can commit fully to meeting or chatting is key to feeling good and being in the right mindset to chat. Planning an activity as opposed to sitting and talking will get you out of the office into a collaborative mindset. And you’ve got to be giving back to your network at all times. This is what good business relationships are built on, and it also just feels good to help people. Trust us! 

October 7, 2022

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October 7, 2022

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