In 21st-century business, an old saying remains true: It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know. A 2020 survey by LinkedIn found that of respondents had been hired at some point through an introduction or connection made by someone they knew.
Finding a job is just one way in which executive networking—connecting and building strong, positive relationships with executives and other business leaders—can spur opportunities for business and personal growth. It also can lead to:
- Market insights
- Business leads
- Mentoring relationships
Today’s connected world has vastly expanded executive networking opportunities. Understanding networking strategies and using them to create and strengthen personal connections is more important than ever for business and career success.
How to Network in Business
Knowing how to network is crucial for any businessperson who wants to succeed in their field. Whether it occurs at a conference, at a meetup, or through a social media introduction, the basic process for executive networking is the same.
It can be broken up into three stages, occurring before, during, and after making a business contact. Each step plays a crucial role in helping business leaders forge meaningful connections.
1. Prepare for a Networking Event or Opportunity
A networking event is more likely to be productive for executives who do some homework ahead of time, such as:
- Thinking about which business goals to promote at the event
- Developing an elevator pitch—a short introduction of both oneself and one’s employer that highlights three key ideas—and practicing it before the event
- Preparing business cards and one-sheets or brochures ready to exchange
- Planning to attend more than once, if the event involves an ongoing group, to develop casual contacts into relationships over time and repeated encounters
2. Engage the Right People
At a networking group or conference, an executive may have time to meet only a limited number of people. Focusing on those who might become useful contacts can be helpful. This may involve:
- Researching the list of speakers and attendees ahead of time to identify those with relevant business interests
- At the event, paying attention to speeches and conversations, listening for opportunities to ask questions or bring up useful information
- During conversations, ask who else at the meeting might be good to speak with on the subject
3. Follow Up Post-Networking
To turn contacts into relationships, at least one party needs to follow up after the initial event. Following up indicates that an executive has an interest in the other person’s business and increases the chances of being remembered. It can open the door for exchanging information, advice, and possibilities for collaborations or joint ventures.
A follow-up can take any of several forms, including:
- A brief email or social media message, communicating having enjoyed the meeting
- Offering advice or resources on a topic that was discussed
- An invitation to a further discussion or a meeting
- Responding promptly and providing any requested information when a contact reaches out first
Resources for How to Network
The basic principles of networking can be practiced in a wide range of situations, both face-to-face and online. The following resources offer tips for how to apply these principles even more effectively.
- American Express, “7 Ways to Build a Strong Professional Network”: More ideas for better networking, with FAQs
- BlueSteps, “12 Networking Tips Executives Need for Success”: Concise principles for more effective networking
- FinancesOnline, “45 Significant Business Networking Statistics”: A collection of statistics highlighting the benefits of networking and various techniques
- , “9 Tips to Get More Value from Business Networking”: Practical advice on how to conduct a networking conversation
Executive Networking: Building Networking Opportunities
In recent years, networking opportunities have expanded in variety as well as quantity. Each type of opportunity includes its own unique elements, which can be conducive to different networking strategies.
Conferences and Seminars
Conferences and seminars can be excellent places to learn about new skills, emerging trends, or potential new areas of business. They also can offer networking opportunities, such as:
- Meeting professionals from different cities, states, and regions
- Socializing at after-hours events
- Spending time deepening relationships, particularly during events lasting two or more days
- Building relationships with colleagues from other departments or branches of a company, who may also be attending
Industry-Based Speaking Engagements
Many avenues for executive networking are open to professionals who speak at industry-based events, such as:
- Engaging with other speakers, asking questions, and learning more about their business activities
- Meeting other executives and professionals with similar interests and information to share
Many colleges and universities sponsor lecture series—many of them free to attend—that bring in experts on a wide range of topics. These events can provide the chance to engage with the speakers and other business leaders, as well as offer other opportunities, such as:
- Connecting with faculty members who may have the expertise to offer or who have done research that could be developed into a business
- Networking with students, who might later become interns or entry-level hires
A roundtable discussion brings together executives and experts from one industry or several to talk about a common topic. Such discussions can offer multiple ways to network, including:
- Speaking at a roundtable to brand oneself as an authority with whom others want to connect
- Connecting with other speakers who may offer fresh perspectives and information
- Meeting peers with similar interests
Casual Networking: Mixers and Meetups
Casual get-togethers can foster executive networking in more relaxed environments, where people can learn about one another personally as well as professionally. They’re often scheduled during happy hours or meals when individuals are less focused on business details and more open to small talk.
Besides being places to meet business colleagues, these casual events can present opportunities to meet potential customers as well. This is particularly true at mixers, which bring together people from different business sectors and walks of life. Meetups, by contrast, attract people who share a particular interest.
Common Networking Strategies
Going to events is just one networking method. Successful executives and entrepreneurs employ various networking strategies, each with unique benefits. They range from using one-on-one approaches and technological tools to joining groups devoted to networking.
Using Social Media
Just as social media makes it possible for advertisers to reach people with particular interests, these platforms also make it easier for executives to find others with whom they have something in common. A number of social sites and apps cater to businesspeople who want to make connections:
LinkedIn lets members build professional profiles, combining employment and educational histories, work samples, and testimonials. These profiles enable professionals—among its 875 million members worldwide—to learn about and message each other.
The site also includes features such as the ability to form or join groups of like-minded professionals, receive job listings, and apply for jobs.
With almost 3 billion monthly users as of July 2022, Facebook is the largest social networking community in the world. It provides avenues for contacting other executives and for learning about their lives outside of business. Sometimes a shared hobby can turn into an opportunity for reaching out and connecting.
Facebook also offers a wide array of private groups for business owners, such as the Small Business Networking group, with 238,000 members, and the Small Business Support Group, with more than 20,000 members.
GroupMe, with 12 million monthly active users, is a messaging app specifically built for business networking. Joining a group on the app allows a user to share messages and receive them from every member of the group. It allows members to attach any of a wide range of types of media to messages, such as photos, videos, documents, and hyperlinks.
Bizzabo is designed for people attending conferences and has been used at more than 85,000 events. It facilitates meeting the right people at an event by allowing attendees to learn about and message one another, and arrange face-to-face encounters.
Using Contact Management Software
A major challenge of executive networking is maintaining all the information collected from a large number of contacts. Contact management software—also known as customer relationship management (CRM) software—goes well beyond storing a contact’s address, phone, and email. It can:
- Keep records of each communication an executive has had with the contact
- Visualize a contact’s place in their company’s hierarchy
- Build relationship maps that show who else a contact is connected to
- Give reminders when it’s time to follow up with a contact
One effective way to strengthen a networking relationship is to be a resource when a contact needs information. The information can be advice, data, documents, or a referral.
Offering assistance can create the impression of expertise and dependability and encourage a contact to offer support in return.
Conducting Informational Interviews
In an informational interview, an interviewer asks an executive or a subject matter expert about a topic, an industry, or a company that they’d like to know more about. An interview can take place in person, over the phone, or over a videoconferencing app like Zoom.
Because it’s not a job interview, it can be more relaxed and informal, and many interviewees enjoy explaining what they do to an interested listener. At the same time, the conversation may launch a relationship that can lead to anything from a job offer to a business venture.
Resources for Networking Strategies
The following resources offer more detailed examples of networking strategies, covering topics from social media to live conversations.
- Business News Daily, “4 Solid Strategies for Expanding Your Professional Network”: A comprehensive collection of networking strategies, along with online tools and dos and don’ts
- Business News Daily, “10 LinkedIn Alternatives for Job Seekers”: Capsule reviews of online platforms that can be used to meet other professionals and find jobs
- Indeed, “A Complete Guide to Informational Interviews”: A step-by-step look at how to set up interviews, the kinds of questions to ask, and best practices
- TechRadar, “Best Business Networking Apps of 2022”: An introduction to four top apps and their features, strengths, and weaknesses
- TechRadar, “Best Contact Management Software of 2022”: Capsule reviews of six top contact management programs
Joining Networking Groups
Networking groups, from chambers of commerce to service organizations, have long been a key part of business networking. The internet has added new kinds of groups to the mix, such as meetups. Each type of group has particular benefits and growth potential to offer to networkers.
Chambers of Commerce
Chambers of commerce help local businesses band together to advocate for pro-business laws and regulations. They also offer opportunities to connect with other business owners such as at networking events and through mentoring programs. They can be particularly useful for networking with executives in other industries.
Trade and Professional Associations
Trade associations resemble chambers of commerce, but limit themselves to a single industry such as construction or food service. They typically host seminars and social events, which allow members to network while sharing information on topics like dealing with regulations or industry trends.
Professional associations serve a similar function for members of a profession, such as bankers or lawyers. They can be a valuable source for finding out about business and job leads, as well as professional certifications and continuing education programs.
Business Referral Groups
Referral groups, also known as leads clubs, are groups whose members provide business referrals and leads to one another. Unlike chambers or trade groups, they limit membership and expect members to be actively involved, such as by attending meetings and meeting quotas of referrals.
The largest business referral organization, Business Network International, has more than 10,000 local chapters around the world, generating more than 12 million referrals a year.
Both focus on social projects that improve local communities. In the process, executives get to meet one another and build the kinds of relationships that come from doing hands-on work together. Some service groups also offer mentoring by retired entrepreneurs.
Social Media Meetup Groups
Meetups combine virtual and in-person interactions to connect people online for activities and events that happen face-to-face. The best-known platform, Meetup, has a section devoted to small business networking with 660,000 members. Their section for professional networking is even larger, with more than 12 million members.
Many local communities have a variety of meetup groups for business networking. Executives may try more than one group to find the ones that work best for their business.
Resources for Joining Networking Groups
A wide assortment of networking groups offers a variety of benefits.
- Forbes, “10 Ways You Can Connect with Fellow Business Leaders in Your Area”: Outside-the-box ideas for networking, such as hosting dinner parties or peer-to-peer coaching groups
- Next Insurance, “11 Best Business Networking Groups for New Businesses”: More groups for small business owners, from traditional groups to social media–based ones
- S. Chamber of Commerce, “10 Networking Groups for Entrepreneurs”: A list of groups that cater to small business owners
Build Career Success through Networking
Executive networking is an important tool for any businessperson who wants to succeed. Executives who know how to network properly can make connections, turn those connections into relationships, and have those relationships produce actionable results.
With more types of groups for networking than ever before, executives can experiment with several to find out which ones are best suited to help them reach their goals. Finding networking opportunities and becoming a better networker can lead to stronger personal growth, business expansion, and career success.