For many people, a strong professional network can have a huge impact on the career and business opportunities that come their way. Having close professional contacts can connect you to great job or business prospects, offer career support and guidance and contribute to your overall professional growth.
But these communities can be hard to build from scratch, especially if you're young or new to your industry. That's why we asked a group of successful entrepreneurs how they've managed to cultivate their professional "tribe." Follow their recommendations to help you actively build a network for business and emotional support as a young entrepreneur.
If you grew up in the social media era, you likely already amassed a wealth of online connections before you even got to college. Starting here and expanding out can help you make faster progress on building your network than relying on in-person connections alone.
"Starting online, you have access to a large, broad array of people from all over the world that you can then connect with via video chat to build relationships," says Keith Shields, co-founder and CEO of Designli. "My network is full of valuable relationships with people I've never met in 'real life.'"
Leverage your network's network.
When she first started out, Rachel Beider, CEO of PRESS Modern Massage, couldn't find a strong group of women business owners to connect with -- so she formed her own.
"I asked everyone I knew who owned a business to join, and encouraged them to invite their own business owner friends," Beider says. "We have monthly meetings over wine and cheese, and it's been a wonderful and vital resource both professionally and personally."
Identify your passions.
The best way to start building a professional network is to identify what you are most passionate about, says Alfredo Atanacio, co-founder of Uassist.ME.
"What about your industry are you most interested in?" Atanacio asks. "Identify individuals who share the same passion. After you have identified those individuals, you can connect with them in a group chat or meet once a week."
Help them out first.
The best networkers know that if you want someone to help you build your career or business, you have to do something for them first. That's why Monica Snyder, CEO of Birdsong, recommends establishing a quick rapport with a new connection by telling them your skills and asking how you can help them. Then, help them without expecting anything in return.
"This could be an introduction, a tip or trick, advice or simply listening to a problem they are having," Snyder explains. "Then, a little later, be sure to follow up with them to make sure their problem got solved."
Add value and clarity.
When you're trying to reach out to someone to build your network, do your research and understand what the other person is all about, says David Chen, partner at GTIF Capital.
"If you can add value, tell them how," Chen says. "Be clear on what you want. You will get a better response if you do this."
Create an online presence.
Blair Williams, founder of MemberPress, recommends writing blogs, creating social media posts and sharing industry-related news online to start building up your professional digital presence.
"By providing informative, relevant and timely content, you're more likely to stand out," says Williams. "You'll be able to develop a network online which can transfer to a more interactive one in real life."
Attend networking events.
Networking events, whether virtual or in-person, are some of the richest sources of new and relevant business connections. Jared Weitz, CEO of United Capital Source Inc., says young professionals should attend these events consistently.
"There are countless young professional networking groups and national organizations to join that will open doorways to meeting like-minded individuals," Weitz explains. "If you attend one and don't find your support system, keep attending new events and over time you will find it, or grow it, one person at a time."
Authentically follow up with people you meet.
Once you connect with someone online or in person, you need to take an authentic interest in them and follow up to cement your connection.
"The best way to connect with other people in significant ways is to try to learn about what might trouble them and how you can potentially solve it right from the beginning," says Nicole Munoz, founder and CEO of Nicole Munoz Consulting, Inc. "This is a great way to build rapport."