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We have all heard of those people who ‘know everyone’. They are well known in their industry, and that makes them better at their job.

‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’, they say. But is that actually true? I believe it is. Knowing what you are doing plus being connected in meaningful ways to other professionals in your industry helps ensure a higher chance of career and business success.

Putting the ‘what you know’ to one side, how many of us truly put professional levels of effort into networking? Throughout my career as a journalist, an in-house communicator and now agency leader, developing and maintaining my network has been one of the keys to my success.

Professionalising the networking part of your work often comes near the bottom of a long list of tasks and asks during any given week. Placing emphasis on building a network has proven to give my career a significant boost. It has helped me find my last three roles. It has also been a fantastic source of industry insights. Now that I run Cognito’s Asian division, it helps enormously in generating new business.

What does effective networking look like? There are a few different ways. Some may suit more than others, depending on factors such as your personality.

For those comfortable in large group situations such as conferences and cocktail receptions, preparing an elevator pitch and practicing it ahead of time is important. Be ready to quickly describe who you are, what you do and relay why that might be of interest.

Social media and instant messaging have been a boon to growing my network. Currently I’m connected to about 13.5k people on LinkedIn, mostly in PR or comms, or related to the industries that Cognito supports: finance, tech & climate transition. Without LinkedIn, my network would be much poorer.

Having these contacts (and more via email and instant mobile messaging platforms such as WhatsApp) isn’t enough. You might be connected on LinkedIn, but until you make that connection ‘in-real-life’, it is not a real contact, in my experience.

So how should you go about enhancing your network?

  1. Narrow down your target audience. Connecting with all and sundry isn’t going to help. Be focused on those in similar roles, or people you want to meet. For example, when I first arrived in Singapore in 2011, I made a conscious effort to contact and meet other heads of comms in banking and finance. I did it out of curiosity and a desire to find out what was happening in the market. Those few initial contacts grew into what is today “The Communicators Network” which has nearly 500 members in Singapore alone.
  2. Meet and greet. It takes time to build a network so you need to do it bit by bit. I’ve been building mine since at least 2006 and there is still a long way to go. Try to meet a few new people each week and ensure you are always growing your network.
  3. Once met, never forget. It’s easy to meet people, but it is harder to keep relationships alive. It is worth building an email list or using a CRM to keep in regular contact with people. Occasional but well-timed messages during the year can work wonders. People remember people that put an effort into keeping in touch.
  4. Never burn bridges. It’s a small world after all…
  5. Be interesting! Making conversation in front of a group of people can be daunting so it pays to be prepared. Read the news and make sure you are across some of the key current events in the market or around the world. If you run out of things to do, start asking questions.
  6. Share stuff with your contacts. I often share what I read. No one has ever asked me to stop sharing interesting articles or insights. More often than not it serves as a reminder of who you are and what you do and makes the process of building a relationship easier to do.
  7. Try to help connect in other ways. I am constantly pinging job opps from around the market to people who I know are looking. It’s a simple way to add value. Just don’t tell the recruiters!
  8. Be brave! Take a deep breath and approach people in groups chatting at that cocktail reception. A polite interruption is never ignored, in my experience. Just make sure you are ready to talk when you get there.
  9. Don’t be despondent. Networking is hard and most other people are not good at it. Just because they don’t respond or don’t engage does not mean they aren’t part of your network. Being popular does not come that easily to most of us. You have to work hard at building your network.

Beyond these tips, building your profile is vital. In an ideal world, people will come directly to you for your knowledge and insights, rather than the other way around. Putting yourself out there as an expert in your field will help to expand your reach. Starting with small industry webinars and working up to TED Talks is one way to success.

Even the most successful people I know take networking extremely seriously. One founder of a well-known cryptocurrency exchange ensures his network is alive and he remains visible and approachable. To do this he has established a comms and social media team that acts on his behalf to LinkedIn with people he meets and to respond to enquiries important to his business.

Darrell Wright is the managing director of Cognito APAC