6 Simple Tips for Building a Professional Network

Professional networking is an important skill that offers many benefits. It enables you to stay in touch with your peers and other professionals, and is a great way to keep up-to-date with the latest tools and techniques that other analysts are using. In my previous article on protecting and building your business analysis career, I mentioned how having a wide professional network is also a way of building career stability. Those with expansive networks are able to leverage long term personal relationships when they need or want to make a job move. They may well find that they hear of job opportunities first, and get calls from prospective employers.

The issue for many people is that ‘networking’ sounds scary. It stirs up images of ill-fated cocktail parties and other awkward forced social situations. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way!  Networking can be easy and fun as well as productive.  Here are some tips:

1. Plan and commit to networking opportunities:

If you are interested in expanding your network, the first step is to find some relevant networking opportunities.  A great place to start is your local chapter of the IIBA – they may well hold monthly events where you can meet other professional analysts.  Alternatively, depending on the type of person you are hoping to meet, there may be another professional organisation relevant to your specific domain.  Once you’ve identified a networking opportunity, mark it in your diary and commit to it.  If you are a nervous networker, you might be tempted to back out.  By making a commitment, and making time in your schedule, you are more likely to make sure it happens.

Networking : Image of a man with a board - "My name is"

Networking doesn’t have to be difficult

2. Carry the right tools:

To make the most of your networking opportunities, you will want to carry the right tools.  It is good practice to carry a supply of clean, up-to-date, crisp business cards.  Remember that first impressions last, so don’t be tempted to rely on an out-of-date creased business card with your old job title on it!  If your employer doesn’t supply business cards, consider having your own personal contact cards printed.

3. Meet new people:

When going to networking events, it can be tempting to spend time speaking to people you already know.  Remember your aim, and make sure you speak to people you haven’t met before. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to people –  I find a smile, handshake and brief introduction such as, “Hi, I’m Adrian, I don’t think we’ve met yet,” can often be an easy way to strike up a conversation.  You might also want to consider how you introduce yourself, and some networkers advocate using an ‘elevator pitch’ (a short polished summary of your role and/or strengths).  Either way, the important part is to be confident and genuine.

4. Exchange cards and build your address book:

When you meet new people, be sure to exchange cards or contact details.  After each networking event, store the business cards you have been given carefully, or even better put the details into your address book.  You might also want to add a few lines describing the person/their role to help remember them in future.  Make sure you do this as soon as possible, else you will end up with a stack of business cards with no idea of who was who, particularly if you meet several people with the same job title, first name or from the same company.

5. Be genuine:

Networking should be a fun professional activity.  Unfortunately, some people use it as an opportunity to immediately sell their services, or to ask for a favour.  My view is the best type of networking happens when neither party has any immediate gain.  That way, a professional relationship can build over time, and perhaps at some point inthe future business might be conducted.  It is also better to think about what you can give to your network, rather than what you can get from it.   If you act genuinely and invest in your network, you’ll find you won’t even need to ask your network for help – they will offer it when they find out you need it.

6. Stay in touch:

Professional relationships strengthen over time, so make sure you stay in touch with your network.  If you see an article that a colleague might like, ping them over an e-mail.    If you see an opportunity that someone in your network might be able to bid for, let them know.  There are many ways to stay in touch, and you might prefer to use a professional networking site like LinkedIn.   Online social networking is a very useful way of supplementing real-world networking, but it certainly doesn’t replace it!

In summary, as BAs we can benefit greatly from networking with our peers in other domains and industries.  This allows sharing of information and best practice, and building a strong network is a great way to protect your career stability.  It is one area of professional development that can definitely be fun.

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Comments

  1. Oyadiran Onaopemipo says

    I enjoyed reading your networking Article…I am a business intelligence developer and transiting into a Business Analyst…. i would definitely apply your approach #3…Thanks so much for the write up….

  2. Barbara says

    I enjoyed reading your networking article. I am the shy BA and never know how to start the conversation. I will definitely try your approach outlined under #3. ” I find a smile, handshake and brief introduction such as, “Hi, I’m Adrian, I don’t think we’ve met yet,” can often be an easy way to strike up a conversation.” Thank you for the advise.

  3. Hi Crystal,

    Absolutely, having a strong network is a great way to create opportunities to get a BA role, change role, or even move between industries.

    If you aren’t already a member, I’d highly recommend the IIBA. It’s a great way of networking with other BAs, whilst also learning about new tools, techniques and industries.

    Thanks again for your comment, hope you found the article useful!

    Adrian.

  4. I’m in the first step at moment, build up networking is very important to get into industry.

  5. Thanks for all the comments, I’m really glad you liked the article!

    Yuri, I completely agree with you that conferences are a great place to meet people, and it was great to meet you in Kiev 🙂 I also agree that online networking is valuable, this can be a great way of building networks with people across the world.

    Corrine, I really like your point about shyness. It’s a very reassuring thought that everyone is in the same situation, so “biting the bullet”, reaching out and making an introduction can be extremely beneficial.

    Thanks again for your comments,

    Adrian.

  6. Corrine Thomas says

    A great article Adrian, I particularly like the point about being genuine. Being genuine, smiling and saying hello to people you don’t know takes you a long way with networking and it then becomes a lot of fun.

    One point I’ve been taught is if you feel a bit shy and awkward, remember that many other people in the room are feeling the same, so just go for it and introduce yourself.

  7. Walter Ritchi says

    Well said Adrian. I like the notion the givers gain. Cool. Thanks for taking the time to post.

  8. Daren Haas says

    I think I will try this approach as I usually only network with people I’ve done business with in the past and hope to see and share in the future. I haven’t been a BA that long so my contacts are limited at this point.

    Daren Haas

  9. Isiah Waller says

    Thanks Adrian,
    This is a very helpful article, especially for the very shy BA that needs a structured approach to networking as opposed to just diving right in, sink or swim.

  10. Just a few coins:
    1) Online forums are also good way to start. They are not so socializing as real-events, but still allows people to meet and to build relationships
    2) A good place to meet people of your profession is events like real forums, conferences, not only local, but also international (that’s the place where I met Adrian)

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