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5 steps to building your professional network as an entrepreneur

By Shannon Courtney

Networking has many misconceptions. Some may think that networking is self-serving, a waste of time, or that only really outgoing individuals can succeed at it. However, networking is primarily a tool focused on nurturing long-term relationships with other professionals for knowledge, business leads, and self-development, and is a healthy time investment in which everyone can succeed. 

The YLAI Network team offers some key takeaways and steps to help emerging entrepreneurs improve their networking skills and expand and use their network connections effectively.

What is professional networking?

Networking is the practice of intentionally seeking out people who inspire, motivate, and challenge you and building relationships with them. Your personal network is your resource — “it’s just as tangible and necessary as your technical skills.” Networking can be a helpful tool to find inspiration as well as support. 

1. Find your networking type

  • Certain forms of networking may not be feasible or effective for you, depending on your personality or professional field. There are three basic types of networkers: 
    • Conveners: those who develop closed and interconnected networks involving those with whom they already have a relationship and may share similar opinions and professional experiences. Since these usually highlight similar demographics, there may not be much exposure to new ideas within the network.
    • Brokers: those who can easily adapt to new professional environments and span different social worlds and networks. This “allows them to be much more creative and much more innovative.”
    • Expansionists: are the “quintessential networkers” – they thrive on meeting new people and tend to develop expansive networks across industries. However, these relationships may not be as deep as others.

2. Determine your base network

The first step in building your network is to understand your base network and reach out to personal contacts. Make a list of everyone you know, including friends, family, neighbors, present and former employers, coworkers, teachers, and students. Even though they might not share your professional goals, they may be able to direct you to others who could be meaningful professional connections. 

3. Leverage digital networks

Digital networks, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, are incredible places for connecting with people who share your professional interests and objectives. Asking people you already know to introduce you to people you want to network with online, through email or messaging, is a fantastic start to building your professional network more fully. With thousands of online groups and forums, you can build relationships with people who share your career or interests or find support and advice. Connect with YLAI on Facebook and LinkedIn to find other young leaders also looking to build their networks. 

4. Set up informational interviews

An informational interview is another fantastic way to speak with someone who has experience in your area of interest and receive insight and advice. Compared to a job interview, this is a more informal one-on-one conversation conducted with the intention of learning and sharing. Learn some more tips from the YLAI network on informational interviews here.

5. Attend networking events

Industry-specific and professional events offer a greater chance to expand your network since most people are there for the same reason: to talk to fellow leaders and learn more about their professional experiences. Start by discussing what you already know about the other person and their work, then move on to shared interests and how you can be a resource for each other.


Keep in mind that it is best to start building relationships before you need them. Though developing a professional network can be difficult, your efforts will be fruitful in the long run.