Main image of article Tips for Building a Diverse, Effective Professional Network

The evolution of technology has flattened the communication hierarchy and completely transformed the networking process, including the way we access and interact with each other. The advent of online networking platforms, podcasts, blogs, social media as well as online and hybrid events has made it possible to meet people you might not otherwise meet.

But you can’t just reach out haphazardly to anyone you stumble upon and hope that good things will happen. You need to be intentional about making the right connections and building deep, mutually beneficial relationships.

“Today, who you surround yourself with is so important because it’s who you become,” pointed out Donnie Boivin, CEO and founder of Success Champions Networking.

To ensure that you have a crystal-clear vison of what success looks like, here are four best practices for building a highly effective professional network.

Strategy Shapes Structure

Professional networks have always been “clumpy” by nature, explained Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, a leading business referral organization. But today we use different subgroups or “clusters of connections” for different things or to achieve different goals. That means you need to be purposeful in how you structure your network and spend your time.

For instance, if you’re looking to switch industries, connecting with senior technical and business leaders in that sector can help you clarify your goals, identify your transferable skills and find opportunities to break in.

If you’re looking to pinpoint where A.I. tools can add value to your software development process, or want to pivot to robotics or another niche, create a subgroup comprised of technical experts in your area of interest or peers who possess different expertise and experiences.

You need to be aware of the stage of your various network subgroups and act intentionally to strengthen them, too. For instance, if you’re not getting referrals, you need to spend less time getting new contacts and more time building deeper relationships, Misner said. If your list of contacts in a specific area is dwindling, you need to spend more time feeding your pipeline.

Visibility + Credibility=Profitability (VCP)

In order to grow your network and achieve your primary goals, first you have to be visible. People have to know who you are and what you do. Then, they have to know that you’re good at it or that you’re credible. Once they’ve realized that, they will feel comfortable referring contacts and opportunities to you.

For technology professionals, answering questions or providing feedback to colleagues on technical forums, sharing code snippets or projects with the community or posting product reviews, technology tips or case studies online can help you demonstrate your expertise to others, which can also help increase your visibility and credibility.

However, Boivin suggests that you go all-in on LinkedIn by sharing content, following thought leaders and experts and commenting on other people’s posts. Another way to boost your “V+C” is by being a guest on a podcast or even starting your own.

“It doesn’t matter how many people actually listen to the broadcast,” he said. The act of finding podcasts to appear on or guests for your podcast will put you in touch with valuable contacts and invite meaningful conversations.

Diversify Your Contacts

Research has shown that interacting with people who have diverse backgrounds, skills and talents can expand your thinking and provide new insights, knowledge and career inspiration.

Plus, building trust and credibility with people outside your specialty and industry is essential to having a prosperous and enduring career.

But outside of the usual tech conferences, association events and tradeshows, where are some places to search for and connect with influential contacts beyond your immediate circle?

Volunteer and Non-Profit Organizations

Whether you serve as a technical advisor, board member or volunteer, offering your tech skills and time to projects, charities, schools and non-profit organizations can connect you with decision makers and leaders who play important roles in the community.

Industry Associations

Being active in a trade or industry association can not only boost your reputation and influence—it can put you in touch with competitors, vendors, recruiters, attorneys and others who engage in or support the industry. Plus, you’ll have access to the latest trends and standards, research and best practices, all of which can help you become a recognized industry expert and someone worth knowing.

Business Development Programs and Events

Attending a weekly chamber of commerce meeting, entrepreneur support club or other business event can help you understand the strategic drivers of business success including funding, taxes, regulations, technology and customer needs. Plus, just engaging in collaborative conversations with business leaders can lead to new career opportunities and open the door to some pretty cool conversations.

Client Networks

Serving as a resource to clients and customers or offering them free advice or referrals will help you understand their issues and concerns and position you as a credible and knowledgeable professional. You may even spot an opportunity to create a new product or modify an existing product, which will elevate your stature with the senior management in your company.

Clubs and Cultural Events

You’d be surprised who you can meet at wine clubs, supper clubs, beach clubs or golf tournaments, Boivin said. You can rub elbows with members of the city council, mayors and judges and nobody’s talking business, they’re there just to meet people and invest in their futures by building their brands.

Educators and Researchers

Networking with professors and researchers gives Misner access to data, surveys and research. He also acts as the connector between the business leadership and research clusters in his network. There’s a lot of benefits and power in becoming a master connector.

Make Networking a Habit

On average, professionals spend 6.3 hours per week networking. But Misner recommends devoting eight hours per week in order to foster deeper relationships and build a strong, effective network.

“Professional networks that suffer from benign neglect will slowly die,” Misner noted. It’s about touchpoints: frequent touches such as phone calls, emails and face-to-face meetings over coffee allow you to build deeper relationships.

Networking is more like farming than hunting, he said. It’s about planting relationship seeds and nurturing them so they will grow.