What Is Networking?

Networking is the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social setting. Networking often begins with a single point of common ground.

Networking is used by professionals to expand their circles of acquaintances, to find out about job opportunities in their fields, and to increase their awareness of news and trends in their fields or in the greater world. (The term computer networking refers to linking multiple devices so that they can readily share information and software resources.)

Key Takeaways

  • Networking is used by professionals to widen their circles of acquaintances, find out about job opportunities, and to increase their awareness of news and trends in their fields.
  • Business owners may network to develop relationships with people and companies they may do business with in the future.
  • Professional networking platforms聽provide聽an online location for people to engage with other professionals, join groups, post blogs,聽and share information.

Understanding Networking

People generally join networking groups based on a single common point of interest that all members share. The most obvious is a professional affiliation, such as stockbrokers, but some people find effective networking opportunities in a college alumni group, a church or synagogue social group, or a private club.

For professionals, the best networking opportunities may occur at trade shows, seminars, and conferences, which are designed to attract a large crowd of like-minded individuals. Networking helps a professional keep up with current events in the field, and develops relationships that may boost future business or employment prospects. Needless to say, it also provides opportunities to help other people find jobs, make connections, and catch up on the news.

Types of Networking

Business Networking

Small business owners network to develop relationships with people and companies they may do business with in the future. These connections聽help them establish rapport and trust among people in their own communities. Successful business networking involves regularly following up with contacts to exchange valuable information that may not be readily available outside the network.

Business owners and entrepreneurs often join their local chamber of commerce in an effort to promote their business interests and to help others in their community do the same. There are many additional benefits to joining a chamber of commerce, such as receiving deals and discounts from other chamber members, having one's business listed in the chamber directory, and the ability to influence policies related to the area's business and economic activity.

Online Networking

Professional networking platforms聽such as LinkedIn provide聽an online location for people to engage with other professionals, join groups, post blogs,聽and share information. And, of course, they provide a place to post a resume that can be seen by prospective employers, to search for jobs, or to identify job candidates.

These days, a business-to-business (B2B) customer聽pipeline聽can be developed almost entirely through the use of a social networking site. Online networking forums allow professionals to demonstrate their聽knowledge and connect with like-minded people.

LinkedIn is the largest professional network, but there are many others. Some cater to particular subsets of people, such as Black Business Women Online. Others have a different focus, such as Meetup, which encourages its members to meet in person off-site or virtually through online video conferences. LunchMeet is just what it sounds like: It's a mobile app that identifies folks in your field who are available locally for a meet-up.

Special Considerations

Given the growing number of networking opportunities available to people looking to start or advance their careers, it's important to take some time to explore your options before committing to a specific networking group. While it's tempting for a new business owner or someone looking for a dream job to join as many networks as possible, a better strategy is to target your time and efforts toward those groups that best fit your needs and interests. Many networking organizations will host special meet and greet events that give potential new members an opportunity to attend a meeting before becoming a member.

Once you join a networking group, it's important to become a contributing member. Rather than just using the association simply to further their own goals, people who use networking effectively look to offer something of value to other members of the group. Networking can help you identify opportunities for collaboration, strategic joint ventures, partnerships, and new areas to expand your business.