“So how many business cards did you get this year?” asked Ryan, one of my teammates.

“Hm, let’s see … looks like about 35 or 40,” I replied as I sifted through my pile. “Not quite as many as last year, but good enough!” Ryan rolled his eyes and chuckled. My coworkers never understood why I collected so many business cards at events and conferences, but I did.

According to Malcom Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, I tend to be a Connector – Gladwell's category for those individuals who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. Making connections with people is something I’ve always enjoyed. I’ve had the opportunity to build an amazing and diverse global network of people over the years – and it’s still growing.

Networking may come naturally for some people, especially in the training and development world. When these individuals find themselves in an unfamiliar environment – whether it’s visiting another country, attending a national conference, or even participating in meetings outside of their organization – they tend to introduce themselves, initiate conversations, and move easily into icebreakers or other “get to know you” activities.

For those to whom networking does not come naturally, connecting with others may be more of a challenge. These individuals may wait to be introduced, allow someone else to start the conversation, and be slow to participate in group activities. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. Generally, people who are not naturally inclined to network will find someone they already know – perhaps a Connector – through whom they can connect with others.

But learning to be more assertive about connecting with others can help build your own personal network significantly faster, and make those connections richer and more fulfilling. So why is it important to build your network?

From a personal perspective, networking has many advantages. It helps to build new relationships through which you can share information, answer questions, and make connections for support and knowledge sharing. People in your network become the portals to knowledge, opportunity, and information you might not find on your own.

For example, when a question stumps me and I can’t seem to find a solution, I activate my network! I send out messages to those whom I trust, and they will either answer my question or connect to someone who can. Conversely, when people contact me with questions I do the same. If I can’t answer their question or give them the information they are seeking, I will connect them with someone who either can or will help them connect to another resource. It’s a win-win situation!

From the business perspective, however, networking isn’t only helpful, it is mandatory. Business networking supports collaboration – whether it’s collaborating with internal team members or making connections outside of the organization. The real value of business networking takes root after you make the initial connection. Once you’ve established a business connection, you’ve set the foundation for sharing a multitude of resources ranging from best practices to collaborating on joint ventures and projects. Your business networks can be your most valuable resources!

Helpful Tips for “Natural” Networkers

  • Strengthen your existing network by making more connections. Ask people to introduce you to more people, and seek to find common ground in each new relationship you find.
  • Keep contact information updated – yours and those in your network. Alert people when you change your contact information, and be sure to keep your contacts current. Make it as easy for them to find you as it is for you to find them.
  • Continue to grow and develop your network along with your own personal growth and development. Reach out to your network and let them support you. Think of your network as your own personal cheering section!

Helpful Tips for “Growing” Networkers

  • Try attending more events, which forces you to meet new people. Make a point to meet at least three new people at every event or function you attend.
  • When you meet someone for the first time, exchange business cards or contact information, and send them a thank you note as soon as possible. This is not only a polite gesture, but it establishes a more permanent way to contact each other (i.e. Outlook, address book, contact list).
  • Stay connected to your Connectors! They will remain a valuable resource for you as you build and expand your own personal network.