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Building a professional network is crucial for success in any industry. If you need a job, service, or professional advice, having connections with other businesses can help jumpstart your next steps. A professional network requires intentionality and care, however. Here is some advice on how to make solid professional connections.

Be Authentic

Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. Be honest about your career, your skills, and your goals–don’t just try to mirror what you think the other person wants to hear. Most professionals are looking for diversity in their network, not a bunch of people who have the same ideas as them. Authenticity can go a long way in making lasting connections.

Know Who You Know

One of the best places to start is with people you already know. Consider people in your family, former college classmates, and existing friends or colleagues. These relationships can be fruitful depending on what you need from your network.

Follow Up

If you talk to someone once at a networking event and then reach out three years later asking for something, don’t be surprised if they don’t remember you. To make the most of your professional connections, take the time to follow up and reach out on occasion. Check-in with your connections about their current goals and projects.

Attend Events

Not sure how to meet other professionals outside of your industry? Research local networking or business events. Most areas have local professional groups you can get involved with that can provide excellent networking opportunities.

Have Something to Offer

Business people don’t want to feel used. If you’re constantly seeking out people and opportunities that can benefit you but giving nothing in return, you might find the benefits start to run out. Ensure you are offering connections, advice, and opportunities to your network in exchange for what they offer you.

Know Your Audience

When starting a conversation with a new connection, take the time to get to know your audience. Ask open-ended questions and try to meet their energy level. You might even consider writing down some notes after the conversation so that you can remember details to follow up on later.

Making professional connections can sound intimidating, but these tips can help you get started and be strategic in the process.