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There are many benefits to networking. It’ll help you build your credibility, find new collaborators, learn more about your industry and much more. Want some tips for building a strong network? Keep reading.

Relationship-building is a great skill to have when you work in the digital space. It comes in handy in your day-to-day work, making it easier to gain the trust of clients and collaborate with team members.

Relationship-building in the form of networking can be helpful outside of work, too.

Even if you feel like your job or gigs are stable, you never know what’s around the corner and networking could simplify the process of finding a new position more quickly. Plus, networking does more than just help you connect with others for the sake of finding employment.

In this post, we’re going to look at the many benefits of networking. Then we’ll look at 10 tips to help you build a stronger professional network for yourself.

The Benefits of Networking

Networking is the practice of making new connections and building relationships with other professionals.

Like other types of relationships in your life, ones made through networking require a lot of work to maintain. While there are online platforms that make it easy to amass hundreds and thousands of “connections,” networking done right isn’t a numbers game.

A strong networking strategy is about creating genuine and mutually beneficial relationships. Over time, you’ll find that a wealth of opportunities come from this type of networking. For instance:

  • Meet new people and make friends.
  • Become more confident in yourself and your work.
  • Gain knowledge on a variety of topics that’ll help you be better at what you do.
  • Stay on top of what’s happening in your industry.
  • Discover new professional opportunities.
  • Get career advice.
  • Receive professional support.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Develop partnerships and collaborations with experts in other fields.
  • Get referrals.

A lot of these benefits focus on what you get from networking. But in order to reap these benefits, you have to be willing to give, too. People don’t do networking so that others can take advantage of what they have to offer. It needs to be mutually beneficial.

10 Tips for Growing a Strong Professional Network

Some people focus on connecting with others in their close network—i.e., former coworkers, classmates and recruiters who work in the industry. This strategy makes sense as these are the people that know you best within a professional context.

However, connections can be found in the unlikeliest of places. So a good networking strategy means keeping yourself open to meeting others and seeing what’s there.

Here are 10 things you can do to build a strong and versatile professional network:

1. Get Your Headshot and Bio in Order

Just as brands need a single, recognizable logo, every web designer or developer should have a unique and high-quality headshot they use online. It’s also beneficial to have a short bio—no more than a paragraph or two—that succinctly sums up what you do and what your value proposition is.

A great-looking headshot paired with a well-written bio lends credibility to yourself as a professional. First impressions don’t just matter to people when they decide which websites to use or brands to buy from. They also affect the success of one’s networking strategy.

Also, by using the same headshot from platform to platform, it’ll make you instantly recognizable to those inside your network. Giving your headshot a unique twist will also make your profile more memorable and easy to spot as well.

Looking for a good headshot example? Go to the LinkedIn page for Cara Covington.

At the top of Cara Covington’s page on LinkedIn, you’ll find her professional headshot. It’s a photo of her in grayscale. In the background is an orange gradient aura, which is a play on her Aurange brand.

Notice how her headshot has an orange aura-like gradient in the background. It goes really well with her Aurange professional branding and also makes her grayscale photo stand out.

2. Be Open to Networking at Any Time

Many people associate networking with formal opportunities designed for it, like networking events and happy hours. But you can make professional connections anytime and anywhere.

For example, here are some of the places I’ve unintentionally done networking before:

  • Meetup group
  • Yoga studio
  • Failed job interview
  • Movie theater
  • Teaching a lesson
  • Eating tacos and drinking at a bar

You never know where your next conversation might take you. So the point is, be open to it.

You might be surprised by who’s looking to connect with someone just like you at this very moment. It could be your realtor who needs a better website, a recent marketing graduate who’s looking for tips on how to get started, or someone in your volleyball group who’s also passionate about great design.

3. Use LinkedIn to Start

I think LinkedIn is a good starting point for anyone looking to grow a strong professional network. With most people being so familiar with social media platforms, it’s the natural place to start growing your network.

Plus, LinkedIn makes it really easy to find people you already know. The My Network feature, in particular, is great because it does things like:

  • Centralize your connections
  • View and connect with your contacts (imported from your email and phone)
  • See recommendations based on shared education, industry experience, interests and more

From the LinkedIn My Network page, users will first see a stream of recommended connections. Here we see other University of Delaware graduates that the user might be interested in connecting with.

The more you use LinkedIn and the more data you input about your professional life, the better your recommendations will be.

You’ll also see useful information regarding second- and third-level connections. So if you’re applying to jobs, looking for mentors or seeking new clients, you can leverage this connectivity to bring yourself front and center and get the conversation started more easily, too.

4. Sign Up for Other Networking Sites

LinkedIn might be the most popular and best-known networking site, but it’s not the only one. For instance, I recently joined Alignable.

Alignable is an app for networking. Business professionals use it to advertise themselves and make connections on an industry and local level.

It works similarly to LinkedIn in that it syncs with your personal contacts and helps you connect with them online. It also finds people in your industry as well as your personal circle.

What I like about this app is how easy it is to find and connect with local businesses and professionals. With so much focus on digital connections, it’s nice to have an app that enables you to find people that live near you.

Another reason to use different networking sites like this one is that they’re new. So rather than sifting through more than a billion users on LinkedIn, not to mention all the groups and jobs advertised there, Alignable feels more manageable. And if your goal is to be intentional about making connections, that’s the best way to go about it.

5. Attend Industry Events

While the end goal of networking is to meet other professionals, you can also use these opportunities to learn something new. That’s why industry events are a popular networking strategy.

Which ones are worth attending?

Webinars and seminars are good to check out if you want to start small. They tend to be a couple hours and focus deeply on a single topic.

Conferences like Design Matters, Smashing Conference and SXSW are another good option, though they require a bigger commitment.

Conferences can be anywhere from a single day to an entire week. With the shift to online in recent years, though, you can attend many of these conferences from home. The only drawback is that it won’t be as easy to make connections as it would be in person.

If you’re interested in shorter, in-person experiences, look for expos and career fairs in your area.

6. Join Your Local Chamber of Commerce

If you live in the United States, think about joining your local Chamber of Commerce. These local organizations help connect business professionals of all types and from any industry.

With a Chamber of Commerce membership, you’ll reap rewards like:

  • Making new local contacts
  • Getting free business resources
  • Receiving business relocation and startup assistance
  • Attending educational events
  • Getting a say in political matters that affect local businesses

Many of these Chambers also have programs and divisions that help different people achieve their goals. For instance, the Jacksonville Chamber has a women’s business center as well as an entrepreneurship program that helps level the playing field for smaller businesses looking for capital and resources to get started.

7. Join a Professional Organization

While the Chamber of Commerce is for everyone, there are professional organizations for niche industries and interest groups. They come with similar benefits—networking, education, career development, etc. However, the information you receive will be better targeted to what you do and the contacts will work in your industry.

To find ones closest to you, do a Google search for “list of [city] professional associations.” To find ones online, search for “professional associations for web designers/developers/digital pros.”

AIGA, for example, is a popular one for designers and has both online and local chapters you can join.

8. Find Networking Events

Websites like Meetup, Network After Work and EventBrite are helpful if you’re looking to attend networking events like:

  • Happy hours
  • Business luncheons
  • Educational sessions
  • Industry-specific groups
  • Employment-specific groups (like freelancer networking)

For example, here’s just a small selection of the web design-related groups you can find near Jacksonville on Meetup:

Meetup users can search for groups related to their professional industry and roles, like this search for “Web design groups near Jacksonville, FL”. There are three groups shown at the top: Jax PHP/Web/Drupal, Jacksonville Web Development, and Sketch & Design - North Florida.

The great thing about these sites is that, if you don’t find what you’re looking for, you have options. For instance, if you don’t find anything locally, there are tons of online networking events available.

Or you can start your own group or host your own event. When I first moved to Jacksonville a couple years ago, I met someone who started a Meetup group for digital nomads. He hosted it one Friday every month and it was a lowkey way to grab some coffee and commiserate with other self-employed digital professionals.

Just make sure to set your expectations accordingly. Most people don’t go into these networking events in order to get pitched on someone else’s services. While work talk is normal, the goal is to connect and eventually see where that relationship takes you.

9. Attend Alumni Groups & Events

Many colleges and universities offer alumni a good deal of resources after graduation, including career development and job hunting. Alumni groups and reunions are just one segment of this, but they can be incredibly helpful as you seek to grow your network.

For example, the University of Delaware has both regional alumni groups as well as affinity groups.

Like other universities and colleges, the University of Delaware has an alumni program. One segment of it helps alumni to “Connect” through events and groups.

Regional groups can be found in most of the major cities around the U.S. For instance, when I lived in Boston, the UD alumni group arranged events where we could go to baseball games and chocolate bars together.

Affinity groups, on the other hand, connect graduates with similar interests. For instance, UD has ones for ROTC, engineering, marching band, nursing and LGBTQ+. Even if you don’t work in the same industry as these alumni, you might discover opportunities anyway.

And if your school doesn’t have alumni groups, or you didn’t go to college, another way to connect with former classmates is through reunions.

10. Use Social Media

LinkedIn is the go-to social media platform for professional networking. However, you can leverage other social media sites as well.

One way to do this is by creating and sharing content that would be of interest to others in your field, prospective clients and so on. You can do this through your own account or create a brand new one for industry-specific news, memes, videos and other types of content.

Delivering value through information and entertainment—without asking for anything in return—is a great way to build a network. To hold onto that network, you’ll need to engage with your connections. Get them talking, listen to their feedback and make the relationship worth their while.

Another thing you can do is use social media to stay connected to people you already have a strong connection with or once did. They could be friends, family, old coworkers, neighbors or someone else.

Even if you’re connecting to them through a personal account, you never know what might appear. For instance, I got my first paid writing gig because a coworker from my old restaurant job was looking for a freelance writer with industry experience. He put up a short post about it on Facebook and I responded. Even though I hadn’t been paid to write before, he knew of my extensive restaurant industry experience and took a chance on me.

Wrapping Up

In order to have experience with professional networking, you need to go into it with an open mindset. The goal isn’t to use others to find a new job or a better-paying one. It’s about finding new connections, fostering the relationships you have and everyone mutually benefitting from it.

About the Author

Suzanne Scacca

A former project manager and web design agency manager, Suzanne Scacca now writes about the changing landscape of design, development and software.

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