Networking means viewing other people as potential resources to further a person's career. This is only part of the equation, however; those who network should view themselves as potentially able to help the careers of others as well. When an equal balance can be struck between being of assistance and gaining assistance through business or personal contacts, networks are likely to be most beneficial. The best tips for networking including joining both business and social groups to meet a range of people, being open and friendly with others, and not acting as if the business contact is more important than the individual or circumstance.
Most people aren't sure how to even begin networking, but anyone who has spoken to another person has already begun this process. Essentially, to network means to start talking to others and to occasionally and causally insert facts about business a person participates in. Opportunities to network come in all sorts of situations, but it helps to look for places where it is easiest to get to know others.
Professional organizations are a great place to find others who may benefit from a business or need help from a professional contact. There are many of these in most mid-sized to larger communities. There can be lunches for businesswomen, breakfasts for Catholic or Jewish businessmen, associations that focus on charitable work from specific groups of people, and many others. People looking for more opportunities to network should consider joining at least two to three professional associations, meeting groups, "meal" groups, or charitable groups that will have others participating who work in similar fields.
It's often thought that networking means handing over business cards and hoping a person will eventually be able to exploit or use relationships with others. This isn't always the most effective way to network. It is far better for people to get to know each other in semi-social situations before business cards get passed around. This is why belonging to professional groups can be so important; they allow people to get a sense of how others work, their ideas about how to pursue business, and possibly even their moral or political stances. These things are likely to make far more of an impression than a well-designed business card.
That doesn't mean there isn't a place for the business card or for creating professional contacts in casual situations. A person who ends up working out next to another person at the local gym might strike up a conversation that leads to a valuable contact. These circumstances tend not to be memorable unless two people really get along well, however.
Another way in which networking can be helpful is when it is done through family members or close friends — there's no reason why these people can't be business contacts too. People have the distinct advantage of remembering their relatives and friends more than they would a casual contact, and they already have an assessment of the skills of others they know. There does need to be a certain delicacy when using friends or family as part of a network, however. People don't want to feel exploited, visited, or used simply because they have something to offer professionally. The same holds at least partly true when participating in professional or charitable organizations; members should focus on the work before making contacts.
For more effective networking, people should look at participation in any social event as an opportunity to be liked or respected, not just as a chance to make a business contact. Chances are, those who receive the respect or admiration of others are more likely to get help from a network when they need it. Participating in activities that are fun and interesting, and getting to know the other people who are involved these activities too, will help build the relationships that can be professionally beneficial later.