Build a Better Professional Network and Transform Your Business


Did you know there is a direct correlation between who you spend time with and what your life looks like?


You tend to be happier if you hang out with happy people, more successful if you hang out with successful people, more pessimistic if you hang out with pessimistic people.

So if you’ve got some audacious goals and want to nudge them closer to reality, one thing you can do is spend more time with the people who have the qualities you want.

Business savvy. Well-balanced. Optimistic. Knowledgeable. And yes, successful.

If you want to uncover career-enhancing opportunities, rewarding projects, and a better life, think about the kinds of people you can start to surround yourself with. Because success rubs off.

How do you find these folks? Well here are some ideas about how to get started.

Understand that influential people can dramatically change your life

This has always been true in business, but the effect is hugely amplified by the internet. Success in the 21st century isn’t created solo. It’s built within a web.

According to Lewis Schiff, if you are connected to six highly-connected people (as most very successful people are), they each open up their networks to you.

A handful of good connections can open out to thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of new connections — and one chance encounter could do unbelievable things for you.

These might be the web’s “movers and shakers” — the powerful voices with big audiences.

But it can also be the perfect business partner, or the striking creative voice that gives a vision to your business. Your next business-changing connection could be a vendor, a client, or just a friend who’s really smart about marketing strategy and is happy to lend a hand.

We all have something to contribute, and we all have areas where we aren’t strong. A network lets you find your complements, so you can do more of what you’re fantastic at.

Focus on building an effective network — not a massive one

There are some people who seem to make a profession out of networking. And given the amount of time they spend socializing online, it’s tempting to wonder when they actually do any business.

Being social is great, but you don’t need the world’s most massive network. You need a few strong connections with people you feel a real resonance with. Sometimes you get really lucky, and those people have audiences that are on your wave length as well.

When you start building your network, focus at first on a few people — maybe five or six. Make yourself damned useful. Understand their work, what they’re passionate about. If they have an audience, find out what that audience cares about.

Pay attention — not in a phony, creepy way, but because you’re interested in what they have to say.

Go beyond social media

Most of us who work at Copyblogger Media met Brian Clark through social media.

We didn’t stop with chatting on Twitter about Phineas and Ferb, 80s music, and Fight Club, though. (Although that didn’t hurt.)

Social media is great for starting relationships, but when you get the chance, take things further. Trade emails. Go to conferences. Do projects together. Get into real conversations.

Copyblogger Media was born out of this kind of networking leading to partnerships, and it’s evolved into a bunch of bright misfits doing meaningful work together.

Don’t be creepy

One of the best ways to build a professional network is to be the kind of person other successful people want to be around.

Be helpful. Be confident. Know what you bring to the table — even if it’s mainly boundless enthusiasm. Contribute. Know how to give, and also know how to ask. Treat everyone with respect, whether they’re “influential” or not. And remember not to squee on your shoes when you meet your heroes! Being a fan is great; being a rabid fan is a little … scary.

The best kind of success — the kind I value — is measured primarily by the number of people you can help. Not by selling yourself short (that doesn’t help anyone), but by building something worthwhile and getting the word out. Making honest, real connections can help you with that. When you’re on a cool mission, the people who can help will find that attractive.

Discover where the influencers hang out

So where do you find this network? Well, you start by figuring out where they hang out.

Do they have a blog? What conferences do they go to? Where do they speak? What forums do they haunt? When do they hit the bars?

If you happened to be in Austin for South by Southwest interactive this year, I hope you made it to our party. It was a hell of a place to connect with bright people — online influencers, creative business minds, talented artists and writers, and an assortment of rock stars, ninjas, and (my favorite) goonies.

We like bringing smart, successful people together. It’s fun and it’s interesting, and we learn a lot from the connections that are sparked. We’re going to have some more thoughts to share with you on that very soon, so stay tuned.

How about you?

Ever made a connection that’s made all the difference in your business or your life? Let us know about it in the comments.

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Reader Comments (39)

  1. says

    I like how you make a couple of references to not being creepy. Aiming this article at anyone in particular?

    Anyway, you’re right about building the RIGHT network rather than a large one. A large one can be distracting and demanding. And the WRONG one can be more detrimental than good. Connect to people who are going to inspire and propel you.

  2. says

    One of the most influential connections I’ve made was a person I met when I first started out. He offered honest feedback and he recommended some amazing people that I could read up on. Not many of the people I’ve networked with were able to offer constructive feedback. This one connection has made a huge difference in my life both professionally and personally.

  3. says

    Beautiful insights as always.

    At work, we have to quickly build pro networks, internally, across the company, and externally, for industry impact.

    To be effective, we always map out the ring of influence to find the lead domino. Tip the lead domino (the opinion leader), and influence from there gets simple. Otherwise, it’s like pushing rocks uphill.

    I like that you pointed out “know what you bring to the table.” The fastest way to find your way in is to be relevant, know what you bring to the table, and connect at the values.

    Values are the lightening rod for connection.

  4. says

    Structured networking via a weekly group can be very helpful for those who are either natural wallflowers or simply lack experience at building relationships. By sitting down with the right group of like-minded professionals on a regular basis (and also arranging individual chats), they get to know each other’s business while also learning about the human being behind the name tag. When a whole roomful of professionals do this, personal and business networks grow exponentially.

    I think this sort of thing is especially helpful for writers, since our job consists largely of isolated keyboarding. Many of us need that regularly scheduled calendar event that gets us out of the house and into the networking arena.

  5. says

    Love this post. I’m a big fan of building a “good” network which is all about quality.

    My add to the conversation is a simple reminder that a lot of us also “grow up” together. So build a network of current influencers, they’ll definitely help your cause, but don’t overlook building a network of contemporaries who may not be as influential YET. It’s harder to pick em’ early, but by putting focus on the quality of people you network with you’ll find it lifts all boats and before you know it you’re a part of the next generation of movers and shakers.

    • says

      Absolutely! Nothing wrong with trying to make connections with those who are more established, but often the really deep and valuable connections come with people who start around when you do. As Liz Strauss likes to say, “little bloggers grow up.”

  6. says

    Excellent post.

    We have found close business connections to be especially helpful in our company’s marketing.

    Small companies that share work space or network regularly actually have an advantage here. In our office, we have an up vote pool so that everyone can work together to promote posts through popular sites like Digg and Hacker news.

    How are you guys leveraging your networks?

  7. says


    I loved your post on the power of your professional network. I’ve often said that your professional net worth is the sum of your personal brand and professional network. It seems people had forgotten about the importance of nurturing them in an authentic and relevant way. I believe in the pay it forward method of building mutually beneficial relationships. If we start each connection with how can I help the other person rather than how can they help me we would all be better off.

    Sometimes I feel like the Don Quixote of Relationship Management as I’ve been teaching the power of nurturing relationships to create a better professional network for longer than I care to admit.

    Keep up the great posts!



    Jon Ferrara
    The Simple Intelligent Relationship Manager

  8. says

    Yes, I recently made a connection that has already made a difference in my life. I met Chris, my business coach and mentor, through Carol We had our first coaching session at 9:00 a.m. today. Chris made more of an impact on me in one hour than all of the hours I’ve spent listening to other coaches on teleseminars and webinars, some of which I paid for.

    What I like about Chris is that she is giving me a blueprint for success. This is very different from the other coaches I have spoken with in the past. Chris is no-nonsense and to the point. This works for me. Most importantly, she understands that I AM ready for change and have been ready for change. I will do my ‘homework’ to ensure that the changes I seek happen quickly. :)

  9. says

    Nice post for those who need to build an offline network. This is something I’ve been neglecting for the last year.

    I’d highly suggest anyone interested in offline networking read the book ‘Never Eat Alone’ by Keith Ferrazzi.

    • says

      Doesn’t necessarily have to be offline, although that’s often a great way to deepen the connection. But Tony Clark & Brian Clark launched a killer business (Teaching Sells) without meeting face to face until the biz had been running successfully for … I’m not positive, something like 2 years?

      Like so much in the offline world, adding the online component can help things happen more quickly and at a greater scale.

  10. says

    I think the most important word you wrote in this post was “contribute”. When you want to build successful relationships with people, you need to give before you get.

  11. says

    Sonia, the article is spot on about the importance of who you know and more who knows you.
    But I feel a little bit disconcerted about the image with the article. Authority and connection. I feel that authority perpetuates hierarchy but network fosters collaboration and success for all.
    Maybe my mind is just working in strange ways this morning or maybe I really want to see more collaboration between connections that aid us all. My network is amazing but too often it seems a one way street except when I pay someone to promote and help me.

  12. says

    Sonia, I think you may have been reading my mind. I’ve been working hard at making the mental shift away from caring about my website traffic and my list numbers and more towards going deeper into my relationships and really working on the effective network piece. It’s not that my site traffic and list numbers don’t count, they do, but that isn’t what is going to make me successful.

    I’ve had some nice wins lately, and when people ask me how I made that happen, the answer is invariably along the lines of, “well, I spent the last 3 years getting to know them…”

  13. says

    I’m so glad that this post didn’t include the advice “tweet every day” or “make sure your Facebook is set to auto-update”. This is about real connections with real people, and too many seem to be forgetting that. Each person that we connect with online is a real person offline, and most of them are very interesting to get to know! Thanks for some wonderful advice.

  14. says

    I met a narrator for my audio books on LinkedIn a few months ago. My first audio book, “A Train Called Forgiveness” came out this week at audible. I’ve also sold a good portion of my books through Facebook and other social media connections. I’ve met interviewers and promoters, even a film producer that have all had conversations with me about future possibilities. It’s still a long, slow process, but I’m just on the journey.

  15. says

    What a great insight Sonia. The people we spend our time with not only help make us who we are, but also make our resource pool that much larger by mutual benefit.

  16. says

    It’s great to be reminded that Quality beats Quantity when it comes to building your professional network. Its also easy to forget when you meet people you admire that you also have a lot to offer. I’m going to meet some of my heroes next month so this post couldn’t have come at a better time.Thanks! I’ll be sure not to sell myself short… and not to be creepy:)

  17. Guunery Sergeant Gene Fenimore Cooper says

    WOW! how refreshing! the comments of all the responses were sooooooo great!
    Civil, intelligent, rightous, inspiring! I guess the military/combat has taken its toll. With all of the activity in our society (Negative News Commentary) I had forgotten what a pleasure it was to listen to intellectural exchange between human being apart from some form of hostility. Thank you Sonia and all.

  18. Guunery Sergeant Gene Fenimore Cooper says

    I am attempting to publish my very first manuscript/Book Non-Fiction. The past few months, I’ve been reading various inputs by many versed in writing, editing, to put my book in the proper format, so as not to be thought of as a “DayCare” dropout. Semper Fidelis and continue to communicate on the good level. Oh! the Name of my book is, ” God is Real and I ain’t crazy” It covers my Life, from the streets to the Marine Corps, in combat (Vietnam-Southeast Asia) Disability/Retirement, Readjustment, tears, memories of lost close friends, and the weeping mothers, wives and children they left.

  19. says

    I remember one wealth guru mentioning about how one can guess the salary of a person. You can get it by averaging the salary/income of his/her five closest friends. Funny, choose the people you hang out wisely. Though I’m kinda on a struggle with this. Looking forward for meeting new ones.

  20. says

    Whew…thanks for emphasizing the need to make honest, real connections. I needed to hear that. I have just started out in the social media world (I’m a late-bloomer – lol) and it’s been quite an overwhelming experience: very easy to lose your way. I made a written promise to myself before entering this big wide social media world. I called it my Bloggers Creed: “I will ensure that what I post and tweet will be words that I can take pride in, words that have depth, have value and contribute something to the well-being of others. My writing will come from within me and will be true to me.” I still have a lot to learn about finding where the influencers hang out (and even who they are!) but I’m hopeful that if I do my homework (reading articles like this one) and put myself out there as a real, genuine person, I will be able to create an effective network….eventually (smile). Thanks for the article! So glad I found you :)

  21. says

    I have a connection right now who I met when I was employed several years ago. We have managed to keep in touch over the years a little but now we’re going at something together. It’s incredible how many connections she has and the past few weeks have been one great introduction after another. It’s very local of course, but each of them have huge networks as well that are effective..not just big.

    Thanks for sharing this information since you are clearly one that understands the power of connection. Love your writing and your expertise!

  22. Archan Mehta says

    Once again, Sonia is on the mark. Thanks for contributing this post: it was a pleasure to read and such a meaningful, learningful experience too.

    Initially, I was not familiar with networking: it was a mistake I do not want to repeat. Networking is a learned skill and it is important both from a personal point of view and also for business.

    I tried to learn from my mistake. Now, I strive to expand my network by having the right people join me on social media. So far it has been working well for me, but I feel there is always scope for improvement. I appreciate you for shedding light on this issue. It is something that young people need to learn about.

    In the real world, nobody cares about your GPA or which school you attended. What is most important is to expand your social circle and to get help from people who are influential in the area of your interest.

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