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Expanding your professional network is valuable to your career in many different ways, from learning more about your industry from other experienced individuals to positioning yourself for a future job. Networking is difficult, but by building genuine relationships and staying in touch with your new connections, you’ll be able to help others and take advantage of having a great network.

Build Real Relationships

Forming genuine relationships is the most important part of expanding your professional network. The goal of networking isn’t to get contact information for as many people as possible. Instead, you should focus on creating quality connections. Even a single genuine relationship is worth more than a multitude of shallow ones.

Don’t just ask for contact information, but seek to strengthen a friendship. Invite someone for a meal or coffee and have a conversation about your mutual interests.

Help Others

Offer to help others more than you ask them to help you. Learn about the type of projects your connection is working on, and offer to help if you can. If their work is outside of your range, perhaps you can suggest another connection you have.

If you need help, it’s okay to ask! Many professionals are more than happy to share their expertise. Remember to be polite, and not take up any more of their time than they can afford. Show your appreciation with a handwritten thank you note.

Stay Up-to-Date

Once you make connections, don’t forget about them! Make a point to reach out every five months or so, even if it’s just to say hello and check in. Social media, especially professional platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, is a powerful tool for staying in touch. These resources are one of the best ways to stay connected with colleagues and clients.

Use Referrals

One of the best ways to meet new people is through those that you already know. Most people will be happy to introduce you to other professional peers. By setting up a time for an introduction with both people, you’ll avoid the awkwardness of a meeting with someone you’ve never met.

Although it won’t be a face-to-face meeting, LinkedIn is another good tool. The site has a feature that makes it easy for your connections to virtually introduce you to someone else they know.

Building your professional network will require time and effort, but having these connections will give your career a boost. You’ll also benefit from new friendships, and be able to assist others in their professional journeys.