Along with interpersonal skills, a strong professional network is at the heart of a successful career. It might not happen overnight but building a professional network that works for you is not as complicated as some think. But it can be seen as a skill in its own right. So what makes it so important and what can we do to build one?
To find out, we spoke to Anass Boumediene, an alumni of the Master in Management programme and currently an entrepreneur who learned all about professional network building while founding his eyewear company ‘Eyewa’.
Why is it so important ?
Traditionally, a professional network is seen to be a group of people who have connected with one another for career or business-related reasons. But it can be much much more! In Anass’ experience, a professional network is essentially “those people you can count on”.
Building long-term collaboration
Anass developed his company with and around his professional network. “Before launching Eyewa, I spoke to hundreds of people who worked in capital markets and other industries that I was interested in. On a weekly basis, I was having lunch or coffee with people from a range of sectors”.
This network was there when he needed expertise, somebody to share experiences with or acting as a soundboard for new ideas. In the beginning, this meant gathering feedback to develop his business plan but it has evolved naturally since. In no time, the network he built has become a solid set of professional relationships: “Some of the people I initially contacted have become investors, others became colleagues or board members of Eyewa. We get connected somehow.”
Building a professional network is the opportunity to offer your knowledge and expertise to others who might need it. Anass maintains “You have to contribute. It’s better to focus on others and it is more fun. You get more out of it.” Strong emotional intelligence and communication skills will help you figure out how you can best help those around you.
How to develop a professional network ?
According to Anass, understanding how you can be of value to your network is key to building solid and healthy one-to-one relationships. But first, you need to move outside of your comfort zone.
Moving outside your circle
Getting started is not always easy. Anass recalls that “the first steps are sometimes intimidating. But you have to leave your comfort zone”. You might feel fear of rejection in reaching out to a busy CEO. “But 99% of the time, people are happy to help!”. Anass admits that at the beginning, it can feel somewhat forced but that over time “it becomes a lot more natural”.
No matter where we are in our career, we can push the boundaries. For Anass, the entrepreneurial phase demanded a different approach to the first phase of his career as an employee. “My professional network was my colleagues, clients and suppliers. With Eyewa, I had to go beyond that first circle.”
Focusing on real professional connections
Of course, technology offers a handy and effective way to make connections. However, a purely online connection isn’t likely to be especially strong. Anass took a physical approach in developing his network: “If you want to speak to someone, you should offer to take them out to lunch”. He spent many a lunchtime with new contacts, presenting his ideas and getting acquainted so that he could understand the different industries that were key to his company’s success.
Building networks from the beginning
Anass’ time at ESCP served him well in creating a diverse and international network early on: “It is a very solid base of people who are in the same state of mind who are looking to succeed personally and professionally. A lot of my student friends have become part of my professional and international network. If I look at my network of school friends, a lot of them ended up in other countries. I had lunch with a former school friend the last time I was in Taiwan and learned about how to do business there”.
The network you build will be unique to you and will reflect your interests and affinities. As Anass learned, if you’re open to asking and offering help, then your network will grow and prosper naturally. And it is one of the best investments you can make. So the next time you need that helping hand, don’t hesitate in making that call. It’s just the beginning of a long and fruitful professional relationship!