How to Network | An Introduction to Networking

Gerald Lombardo

Gerald Lombardo
August 18, 2022 10 min read

networking for beginners

Wondering how to network? This article will help. Geared toward sales professionals, this article provides a general understanding of how to network, what networking is, how networking works, where to get started in networking, networking tips, how NOT to network, as well as advice from notable masters of the craft.

Networking 101

Networking is not what it used to be. The practice itself, which once boasted skill, collaboration has become a dirty word. Or, at least, a vague one - today “networking” is used to mean everything from joining a Facebook group to having  dinner at Nobu. The twist is that, if done right, either of these activities could be called networking. Networking is not a pretentious practice. It’s fundamentally about connecting with people in an authentic way - and this could be done virtually or in-person.

Networking Definition | Networking Meaning

Networking is the practice of making connections that create value.

Not limited by industry or space, networking is an essential practice in every business enviroment. Artists, athletes, and of course business people, entrepreneurs, and all sorts of other communities network - both formally and casually. And all of these communities live by the definition above.

Okay, so now you know what networking is let's talk about how to do it.

How To Network | Top 10 Networking Tips

Here are ten tips to keep in mind when you're thinking about networking

Networking Tip 1 - Clarify your goals

The first step in networking is to get clear on your goals. What are you looking to achieve? This could be anything from making new friends to building business partnerships. Once you know your goal, the rest of the process will be much easier.

For many, the difficulty comes from losing focus on what matters. And what matters is not clout-chasing or number-hunting, what matters is making genuine, authentic connections - connections that create value.

Focus and simplicity, once you get there you can move mountains.

-- Steve Jobs

Focus, Focus, Focus

Staying focused is a big part of the networking game. It's a mature mindset - one that requires discipline and control. There are practical focus tips, and there are tips about focus that relate to individual mentality and having a winner's mindset. Perhaps the best resource for practical tips on how to achieve discipline and focus in pursuit of long-term goals is Atomic Habits by James Clear. It's worth the read.

Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become. 
-- Heraclitus

If you’re on the job search, for instance, you should behave differently than if you are a hiring manager and if you’re a hiring manager you should behave differently than a marketer. Know you role, know your goal, and stay focused - it is simple, straightforward career advice like this that turns jobs into career paths.

Popl networking tips

Networking Tip 2 - Do your research

Before attending any networking event, it’s important to do your research. Find out who will be there and what their interests are. This way, you can strike up a conversation that they’ll actually enjoy. And this is true whether you’re talking to a small business owner or a fortune-500 CEO. You never know where the most valuable professional opportunities or referrals will come from, so the best rule of thumb, is to know what you can about all your new contacts.

This is also true of new opportunities. If you know a company has recently raised funds, or launched a new product, or done something else noteworthy, demonstrating your familiarity in a casual way is a great compliment - particularly if it’s sincere. Remember that with all new relationships you should be, if not guarded, at least on your best behavior. A bit of vulnerability and openness is good in small doses - especially if that’s a part of your authentic nature - but these should be limited at first. It’s the same whenever you meet people, and it’s important to remember that managing your own personality and social behavior is a major part of the practice of effective social networking.

Networking Event Pre-Game Research

Here's some advice on what research you should be doing before any in-person networking event:

  • First, research the event itself. What is its history? How did it come to be? What's the culture like? This will help you understand what to expect and how to dress.
  • Second, research the people who will be in attendance. Check out their social media profiles, LinkedIn, and any other online footprint they may have. See what interests you have in common that you can talk about. Sure, no want wants to do homework. But if you're committed to success you will put in the ground work to ensure you're as prepared as possible and then, from there, all you can be is authentic.

So, do your homework, and then, especially if it's an in-person networking event simply be yourself. Authenticity is key. Don't forget . Maintaining authenticity is part of the mentality portion of how you make the most out of any networking opportunity. 

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

-- Ben Franklin

Networking Tip 3 - Make a good impression

First impressions matter - especially when it comes to networking. So make sure you dress to impress and be on your best behavior. This doesn’t mean you have to put on a persona, just be the best version of yourself.

And how do you make a great first impression? It starts with how you're carrying yourself. Your posture, your energy - it's all telling. Are you making eye contact? Do you have a firm handshake? Remembering people's names goes a long way too.

Your appearance matters as well. What you wear says a lot about who you are and how seriously you take yourself. So take the time to put together an outfit that makes you feel confident and comfortable.

And finally, always be polite and respectful. Treat everyone with the same level of courtesy, no matter their title or position. You never know who you’ll end up meeting and how they can help you in the future.

Making a good impression is a major consideration with online networking as well. If your LinkedIn profile, for instance, is too sparse or otherwise in bad shape it can reflect badly on you. You don’t necessarily have to aim for LinkedIn celebrity, but if you have a profile it should be accurate and professional so that you put your best foot forward with all LinkedIn connections.

Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to making a good impression is using a tool like Popl's metal card or one of their other networking products. Popl helps you quickly connect with people in a memorable, user-friendly way, while also making follow-ups incredibly easy.

Networking Tip 4 - Listen more than you talk

One of the most important networking tips is to listen more than you talk. In general this is a good conversational rule as well as specifically good for networking. Always try to think that the person you are talking to is more interesting than yourself. This can be a difficult pill to swallow, but if you succeed you will realize that you're suddenly doing more than justwaiting to talk,you're genuinely listening. And you'll be amazed the things you'll hear and pick-up on when you practice this tip. People will clue you into projects and opportunities and give you advice and support in ways you couldn't have imagined. The point is that you shouldn't always actively try to impose your will on every interaction. Sometimes simply expressing interest in the person you are talking to and allowing them to talk is all you need to get the ball rolling.

How do you get better at listening? For starters, make an effort to pay attention. Put away your phone, and focus on the conversation at hand. Try not to think about what you’re going to say next. Instead, really listen to what the other person is saying and ask follow-up questions.

It sounds easy enough, but in practice, it can be difficult. So if you find yourself struggling, here are a few more things you can do to improve your listening skills:

  • Repeat back what the other person said to ensure you understand
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Seek clarification
  • Summarize the conversation periodically

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.
-- Bryant H. McGill

Also, important to note the sage advice of famed management consultant Peter F. Drucker who said,The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said.

professional networking 101

Networking Tip 5 - Be useful

If you want to make a lasting impression, offer something useful. What can you do for the other person? How can you help them achieve their goals? When you focus on how you can be useful to others, they’ll be more likely to remember you and want to help you in return.

This doesn’t mean you should be a pushover or constantly doing favors for people with no expectation of anything in return. But if you can find ways to be genuinely helpful, it will pay off in the long run.

Keep in mind that networking is a two-way street. It’s not just about what you can get out of it, but what you can give as well. This is the whole point of networking - meeting and learning about people so that you can more easily draw connections between your strengths and their needs - or vice-versa.

Usefulness! It is not a fascinating word, and the quality is not one of which the aspiring can dream o' nights, yet on the stage, it is the first thing to aim at.
-- Ellen Terry

Networking Tip 6 - Be yourself

This networking tip is simple but important. Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. People can see through phoniness, and it’s not a good foundation for relationships.

The best way to build genuine connections is to just be yourself. Be honest and authentic, and people will be more likely to trust and remember you.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should share everything about yourself with everyone you meet. But if you’re genuine in your interactions and sincere in your intentions, you’ll be on the right track.

It’s important also to realize that some of the people you meet may already know you from social media. Whether LinkedIn or other professional network, your online presence can preface people’s first impression. This leaves you with two options: One is to put at least a sufficient amount of time and resources into the cultivation of your online presence through social media and or a personal website. Or, alternatively, keep your online presence intentionally minimal. If you prefer in-person events to online networking make that a conversation point. A large online presence isn’t required for successful networking, what is is a controlled online presence - one that provides at least some social proof and some way for those recruiters, collaborators, and other professional relationships to find you online. Popl does just this - if provides you with an online page that acts as a digital business card. You choose which contact information to include or exclude and are in complete control of your online identity in a clean, professional way.

Networking Tip 7 - Give first

Another important networking tip is to give first. When you focus on how you can help others, they’ll be more likely to want to help you in return.

This doesn’t mean you should be a pushover or constantly doing favors for people with no expectation of anything in return. But if you can find ways to be genuinely helpful, it will pay off in the long run.

Keep in mind that networking is a two-way street. It’s not just about what you can get out of it, but what you can give as well. This is the whole point of networking - meeting and learning about people so that you can more easily draw connections between your strengths and their needs - or vice-versa.

The secret of success is to find a need and fill it, to find a hurt and heal it, to find somebody with a problem and offer to help solve it.
-- Robert H. Schuller

Networking Tip 8 - Have a simple and concise "pitch" prepared

When you are networking, it’s important to be able to quickly and concisely explain who you are and what you do. This is often referred to as your “elevator pitch” or “value proposition.”

Your pitch should be short - no more than a few sentences - and should be able to capture the essence of who you are and what you do. It should be something you can easily remember and recite on the spot. Stay away from trite or overused terms. Try to explain yourself and what you do in the most clear and straightforward way possible. People who over-inflate what they do or sell or specialize in are lighting a flashing sign over their heads that reads "insecure," and the most elite people you'll encounter networking know this. Listen to how the most successful people describe themselves, you'll not likely hear any jargon or unnecessary language.

Keep in mind that your pitch doesn't need to be a memorized script, but it helps to have a general outline in your mind so that you can confidently and effectively communicate what you do when networking.

Wise is the one who learns to dumb it down.
-- Curtis Tyrone Jones

Networking Tip 9 - Don't monopolize people's time

One of the most important networking tips is to not monopolize people’s time. When you’re talking to someone, be conscious of how much time you’re taking up and try to keep the conversation relatively brief.

Of course, there are always going to be exceptions to this rule. If you’re talking to someone who is genuinely interested in what you have to say and wants to hear more, then by all means, continue the conversation. But in general, it’s best to keep things short and sweet.

Nobody likes a time-suck, so don’t be one!

Never fail to know that if you are doing all the talking, you are boring somebody.
-- Helen Gurley Brown

Networking Tip 10 - Follow up after meeting someone

One of the most important networking tips is to follow up after meeting someone. This shows that you’re interested in building relationships and that you value their time. This can be especially important if you are looking for a new job. Those considering hiring want to see eagerness in candidates, there’s no reason to be aloof when you’re on the job hunt.

There are a few different ways you can follow up. You can send an email, connect with them on social media, or even just give them a call. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, as long as you do it within a reasonable time frame.

Don’t wait too long to follow up, or the other person may forget who you are. But don’t follow up too soon either, or you may come across as pushy or desperate. A good rule of thumb is to follow up within 24-48 hours.

The fortune is in the follow-up.
-- Zig Ziglar

how to network for business

Typically, you’ll want to exchange contact information with potentially valuable connections before you come to the end of your first conversation. Sometimes circling back with new connections can prove difficult and many great potential partnerships have been lost, simply because two people failed to exchange information. Classically, this problem was solved with a paper business card. But digital business cards are the way of the future.

Digital Business Cards

If you’ve never used a digital business card or one of the other Popl networking tools, they can and will massively upgrade your in-person networking skills and help you organize and grow your professional network.


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