Professional network basics
A professional network is usually some type of connected community of people with similar business interests or educational backgrounds. That might take the form of an online community like LinkedIn or Women for Hire. Or maybe even your local Chamber of Commerce.
While traditional professional networks are social by nature, the core relationship is usually business-oriented. So that can include alumni groups and industry organizations. The main thing to look for is a place with people who have shared business experiences or interests.
Not just social networking
Business connections also happen outside of traditional social networking walls. Even less formal things like a soccer league or a book club or a gym in the business district or even a local golf club can function as a professional network if members include business people.
The emphasis here is to connect on the human level, build relationships, and create an ongoing support network. Not just for your needs, but for other members’ needs too. Whether in a professional network or in networking of any kind, the strongest links are those where you have things in common. And where it’s a two-way street.
The purpose of a professional network is to help you grow your business, improve your career, network for jobs, meet like-minded people. And even help save your butt if you get in trouble, as fellow members will often rally around you. (Kind of like extended family.)
⇒ EXTRA: Why Networking Matters So Darn Much
On a side note:
Professional networks can also get you in trouble, as with Bernie Madoff who used his club memberships to take advantage of the trust and respect that he built up over time. Luckily, he’s the exception to the rule. Still, always good to keep your eyes open and do your own research. 🙂
[Article updated in 2020]