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Yes, you need to network: Five hacks to help build – and expand – your professional network of friends

Being busy as an iMarketer is a great problem to have. When we’ve got all the clients and all the projects, it can start to feel easy to coast on the professional networking a bit. After all, you’ve got plenty of work! Why worry about searching for more?

Projects get wrapped up, clients lose their marketing budgets, and all of a sudden, you can start to feel the new-client-scramble set in: Where’s that business card from the woman I met last month? Shoot, I never emailed that guy I met at the conference. I know I meant to RSVP for that networking mixer!

We’ve written in the past about the importance of going into a networking event with a “before, during and after” plan. But networking isn’t a one-and-done task to check off your to-do list. It’s something to be nurtured on an ongoing basis; as long as you’re a professional, you should be networking.

If that sounds torturous, don’t panic! We know that networking can seem like the chore that never ends. But a solid network is vital to building relationships that, over time, turn into clients. And it doesn’t have to be overly painful or time-consuming. In fact, the best networking happens when you focus less on “making contacts” and more on “making friends.”

Here are Five Professional Networking Hacks to help you on your way:

1) Be a joiner.

This one’s not so bad because you probably are already involved! Any time you are out in your community — at the PTA meeting, your book club, a board meeting or your favorite weekly yoga class — you are connecting with other local professionals.

2) Be curious.

Being in all those places doesn’t do you much good if you’re not making an effort to connect with those around you on a personal level. That starts with being curious and asking them about themselves. Wanting to know where someone is from, what brought them to the area, or what interested them about their field doesn’t just look like a genuine way to get to know someone; it is a genuine way to get to know someone.

3) Listen.

Keep that cell phone in your bag, make eye contact and ask follow-up questions. We live such busy, fast-paced lives that sometimes we underestimate the value of feeling like we are heard. People who listen are people who care, and everyone wants to work with people who care.

4) Tell your story.

Everyone has one, and yours is what makes you unique, interesting and relatable. Don’t be afraid to talk about challenges you’ve faced, failures you’ve experienced and how you have been able to overcome them. You don’t need to be perfect; you just need to be you.

5) Pencil it in.

Pick one hour a week to send follow-up emails to contacts you’ve recently met, to “check-in” on that interesting project one business owner was telling you about last month, or to schedule a coffee catch-up date with a longtime acquaintance. Make a game out of it: For one hour, your goal is to make as many little — but still genuine! — connections as you can via email, text message or social media. Next week, try to beat your own record.

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