Always Be Networking

Recently I reconnected with the first person I interviewed with for my first job out of college. When we last saw each other in California seven years ago, I'm sure neither one of us expected that much time would pass before we talked again. Thanks to social networking sites like LinkedIn, it is easy to stay in touch with old colleagues in an informal way. Now, as president of Executive Travel Directors, I typically travel one week a month and am making new connections at every meeting I attend. I've found it is more important than ever to keep my networking skills sharp so I can continually grow my personal and professional network. While the networking tools have certainly changed, the rules of networking remain constant and it takes a purposeful effort to master the art of networking.

We all know that networking is important from a business standpoint, for recruiting clients and staying connected to colleagues in the industry. Networking is also important from a professional development perspective in today's changing economy, and a general business network can't ever be too big. In fact, every position in my career has been referral-based, due to keeping my networking and industry connections current.

When starting my career, I was fortunate to learn from effective networkers, who I saw invest in developing a group of people with commonalities and working to establish solid relationships. As my career has progressed, I've learned that networking needs to be intentional in order to be effective.

As I've found through my frequent business travel, events such as cocktail receptions present networking opportunities that can substantially grow my professional network. I determine my goals in advance, like I would for as sales presentation, to gain more from the event attendance. This can be as simple as requesting a copy of the attendee list prior to the meeting to scan it for familiar names or those I'd like to meet. Once I'm at the event, I'll find a way to begin a conversation or have a mutual acquaintance introduce me to these key industry players. If I meet my few targets on the list, I consider it mission accomplished!

Steps to successful networking:

• Be friendly, yet professional.

• Be genuine, you want to build trust.

• Establish goals, why you are networking. Looking for a job, enlarging your contact base, or looking for possible clients?

• Follow up with the contacts you meet. Handwritten notes are a thing of the past but are noticed and remembered!

• Try to keep in touch periodically.

• How can you provide value to the person you're meeting? Try to give before asking for something.

• Don't dismiss anyone as irrelevant. It's about who you know, not how many people you know.

Brad Goodsell is president of Executive Travel Directors, a Chicago-based company that has been helping businesses plan and execute meetings for 23 years. He can be reached at or [email protected].