During the day we all indulge in some form of conversation, exchange of ideas, or just keep in touch with people we are familiar with. I label that as “networking”. Yes, you read the title of my blog correctly. Networking is an art and not a science since networking occurs between real people. As we all know, people have different tastes and choices, and could also have a trait or two in common.

Your network of people should be well balanced, including people from different walks of life and not strictly related to work. I am recommending that you maintain and develop contact with people from your past, such as family, classmates, teachers, friends and colleagues from prior work experiences, including former managers. Developing and maintaining these contacts forms your Initial / base network. Technology and various social media programs have made it easier to maintain contact.  But too much of just your base network will not spur your personal and professional growth.  These days, it’s just not about whom you know, how many contacts you have on your social media accounts, or how big your stack of business cards is. Today, it’s all about adding value. As I highlighted earlier, one needs to maintain contact with their base network, and especially those folks who are completely out of sight and out of mind.

Meet people in your local communities, get involved in different civic organizations, or volunteer time for a local cause. One cannot fathom the exposure and positive learning experience that is attained through this 2nd level of networking. You can then share what you learn with your base network, which in turn will help you to achieve your second objective of going beyond simply maintaining contact with individuals. In addition to your time commitment, try to add value in order to gain something from networking. To do that, strike up a conversation with the person next to you at the 2nd level of networking as you would with somebody from your base network. Be pleasant, curious, a good listener, and learn what brings them there, then later share the same about yourself. After that initial conversation, meet for coffee or lunch to discuss more about your commonalities. If the person likes networking, invite them to attend future events, which could lead to building stronger relationships and potentially to a future business deal. During a recent conversation with the president of a local civic organization, I learned he secured a $1 million investment account during one of the community service events he was involved in. I also know quite a lot of people who have secured their ideal career due to networking at such events.

My point is to network at every possible opportunity, share ideas with people you are in contact with. If possible, help your contacts by directing them to people who could help them. If you are not used to doing this, the time to start is now.  As mentioned earlier, networking is an art, and with experience you will become an artist – a “la natural”. As long as it’s not something mechanical you have to do, networking is actually as effortless as breathing.