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If you asked what got me to where I am today, tactical networking and building meaningful relationships would be near enough top of the list. Networking is a fantastic way to boost your confidence and establish relationships that can yield significant returns for your business or your career.

Networking is something you need to master to get ahead and stand out. If you’re shy, an introvert, or hate those awkward pressurised environments, then the key is to reframe the challenges you think you’ll face. Try to  visualise the value and opportunities for your business or your career in the connections you’ll inevitably make. Real networking can be hard work as it is about putting yourself out there in situations where you know almost no one and forming meaningful connections.

I personally believe you don’t meet anyone by accident and that everyone you meet knows something and someone you don’t. Whether you’re an entrepreneur looking for funding, or a freelancer looking to promote your skills, there’s a lot of luck involved in achieving success, so the more people you know, the luckier you get. Networking is the vehicle for luck.

You need to push yourself outside your comfort zone as it’s by far the most cost-effective way to grow your business or your career. Whether it’s online through social media channels or in person at events, networking is an essential and powerful skill.

Focus on building relationships, not just networks. When you’re networking in-person, don’t go in with the “what is in it for me” mentality. You should embrace a relationship mindset instead of a transactional mindset. A solid network is built on relationships where both parties benefit.

The phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is well-known and speaks to the importance of building an influential and diverse network. I like to take it one further and add “It’s also who knows what you know”, as it’s important you’re able to make people aware of the value you bring, and the value you want to bring. This will help them be able to recommend you for opportunities.

As the CEO of a training business, UpSkill Digital, I’m passionate about learning, shifting mindsets and giving back. Networking, broadly speaking, is about helping people. Once you’ve connected with someone new in-person, follow up immediately with them via email or on LinkedIn and share relevant articles or links to other events they may be interested in. It’s a great way to show that you’re a thought leader in your industry.

This leads us on to the benefits of having a mentor. Building a network is a daunting and time-consuming prospect, but you could benefit from finding a mentor who is happy to be an advocate and guide for you. They may also come with a host of contacts across many different industries and professions to put you in touch with.

Mentoring is an important aspect of networking. Virtually everyone has gained value from a mentoring relationship, either formally or informally. Two famous examples would be Bill Gates, who had Warren Buffett as a mentor, and Mark Zuckerberg, who had Steve Jobs.

If you want to get a mentor, be clear on why you want one and set yourself goals for the relationship. Typically you wouldn’t outright ask someone to be a mentor, but ­perhaps ask if they would be happy to meet with you and support you on a topic and/or skill(s) you think they can help you with. Some people find that the formal title of “mentor” holds a lot of pressure so resist the urge to put a label on the relationship and try to grow it organically.

Being visible and getting seen is a benefit of networking that is vital in building and growing your business. In this day and age, we have the luxury and reach of social media platforms to brand and ­promote ourselves far and wide.

If you’re looking for in-person events, there are many great business, start-up and freelance networking groups out there, many of them tailored to interests and industry. I’d recommend checking out business groups on LinkedIn, networking platforms like Meetup.com and various public Slack workspaces like #techlondon where like-minded people may share events suited to your interests.

Creating a network takes time and commitment, so don’t think it will happen overnight. There’s something to learn from each individual you meet, so listen, acknowledge and offer your help. It’ll come back to you.

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