Navigating Networking: Tips for Top Talent

February 14, 2024 Emily Slayton

Are you an independent professional, striving to thrive in today’s competitive market? Networking is a critical component of furthering your independent career, no matter your experience, skills, or expertise.

Read on for insights into networking for independent professionals and strategies that go beyond business card exchanges and LinkedIn requests. These tactics will help you thrive in a disruptive and ever-evolving business landscape. From unlocking the potential of your existing network to best practices for making more meaningful, lasting connections that open doors to endless opportunities and more, here are some of the many ways to start nurturing your networking strategy today. 

What you know vs. who you know

While innovation thrives amidst uncertainty, the last thing any CEO wants is to be uncertain about the independent consultant they’re hiring to help innovate.

It’s no surprise that organizations prefer to hire talent with a proven track record. But when trust is this critical, referrals from respected peers and employees become the gold standard. Studies estimate that 70-85 percent of people were hired for their current role thanks to networking.

By showcasing what you do best, you’ll effectively establish and maintain an understanding about your knowledge and expertise. In turn, you’ll be able to build your network and stay top of mind when executives are looking for independent talent to support new projects and changing priorities. Here are four tips on how to do just that:

Start with the relationships you already have

Any network worth building is worth building well. Take a moment to think of your professional network as a structure. The stronger its foundation, the larger you can build it. Your current clients, former co-workers, and other professional contacts will serve as the cornerstone of your network. 

Deepening these connections means considering your network’s needs, challenges, or pain points and reaching out proactively. Be genuine in your interactions and nurture relationships in a way that allows you to apply your skills to add value.

In fact, Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn founder, said, “One of the challenges in networking is everybody thinks it’s making cold calls to strangers. Actually, it’s the people who already have strong trust relationships with you, who know you’re dedicated, smart, a team player, who can help you.”

Give first, receive later

Whether we like it or not, networking is a two-way street. To receive referrals and introductions, you need to offer them first. Remember, small gestures can make a big impact! As Sallie Krawcheck, founder of Ellevest, suggests, it can be as simple as sharing an article or making introductions. Connecting people within your network is a powerful way to add value and build trust. It shows that you understand your strengths and limitations.

 “It does not have to be big stuff. It does not have to be, ‘Adam, I am presenting you with a business gift,’” she said. “But instead it can be, I met with Adam a couple weeks ago, and I know he was interested in X, and here is an article on X, so let me send it over to him. Or I met someone, and I think he and Adam would really hit it off. Let me make that introduction or offer to make it.”

Connecting people within your network is a powerful way to add value to your relationships, particularly if they have experience or skills outside your area of expertise. This has the added benefit of reinforcing trust by acknowledging that you know what you know and admitting what you don’t. 

In time, your contacts will be more likely to think of you when they need to connect someone with the specific types of problems you excel at solving, and you might just find yourself with a stellar contact that can solve the problems you can’t. Networking is a mutually beneficial, reciprocal process between professionals after all.  

Diversify your network

While it's essential to build strong connections within your industry, it’s important to widen your scope. Being focused on a specific industry or area of expertise will naturally yield like-minded professional relationships, which makes for a valuable network in many ways. But a lack of diversity will ultimately cap your growth potential. It’s important to engage with experts outside your immediate industry or functional niche to bring fresh perspectives and resources into your network. It can also help broaden your understanding of current business challenges and spark ideas for innovative solutions. At the end of the day, you never know where your best partnership opportunities lie! 

Be their guest

Today’s digital ecosystem offers endless opportunities for communication and collaboration. Guest authoring articles for related industry sites and tapping into professional forums—like collaborative articles on LinkedIn—can help you demonstrate your expertise and help you build your network connections with a new audience. In many cases, you can repurpose content you originally created for your site, dive deeper into a topic you’ve touched on before, or create a round-up post that links back to past articles. 

Further multiply the benefits of this strategy by offering to share your expertise on your network contacts’ blogs or news sites. Their audience gets the benefit of your expertise, your contact gets the benefit of providing valuable content, and you get the benefit of making new connections. By offering your unique insight, you not only showcase your knowledge, but open yourself up to making new connections through online interactions. It's a win-win for all parties involved.

In conclusion, networking as an independent professional is a fluid, ongoing journey. By implementing these tips and strategies, you'll be better equipped to navigate the constantly changing business landscape and secure opportunities that align with your expertise and skills. You’ll set yourself apart both for your expertise and leadership, and that’s just the beginning. 

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About the Author

Emily Slayton

Emily is an award-winning writer who specializes in B2B marketing. She has been helping global brands reach targeted audiences to drive sales and awareness for more than 15 years. As a small business owner herself (skeletonkeybrewery.com), she understands what it's like to source a team that can scale with sudden growth.

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