Virtual Networking 101: Connect Online and Boost Your Career

Here's how to create and cultivate fruitful, mutually beneficial relationships

Over the years, most professionals have been taught that success is not about what you know, but about who you know. That is only partially true. Success is about who knows you, and what the “who-you-know” has to say about you. In essence, career success is about your ability to create and cultivate fruitful, mutually beneficial relationships in the marketplace.

Now that e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e is literally just a click of a button away, strategic networking in a virtual world is more important than ever before.

In continuing this series on securing a mentor (see The Problem with Traditional Mentoring and 5 Things to Look for in a Virtual Mentor), it is important to understand how to build relationships in a web 2.0 world.

There are three mind shifts you must make and embrace at the outset.

1) Networking is a process. Unfortunately, the Internet has conditioned us to expect instant access to everyone and everything. As with anything worthwhile, marketplace relationships take time to grow. Develop a game plan and timeline for how you intend to create meaningful connections. Then, be patient, polite and persistent in executing it.

2) Don’t ask prematurely. Never ask for help before you have a right to do so. Asking for someone to mentor you or assist you is always the wrong way to start a conversation. Being mentored is a rare privilege, not a right. You must place deposits into the life of another before you even think about making a withdrawal by asking for anything. The best way to create quality connections is to offer value – be it time, skill, insight, or resources. Generosity is the soil that enables online relationships to sprout.

3) Professional mentoring is about win-win relationships. Snagging a rock-star mentor is not about what you can get; but about what you can exchange. You must bring something of value to the table. The value you offer is, after all, what is likely to grab the other person’s attention. Building relationships with people that you admire, trust and respect requires that those individuals have an opportunity to develop an equal level of admiration, trust and respect for you. You want others to proactively desire to stay connected with you. In order for that to happen, there must be mutual value.

As a busy professional and employer, I don’t really look for people to mentor. I look connect with motivated professionals that are serious about development. I love helping people maximize their potential, but mentoring someone has usually developed naturally and on a very personal level. However, I am incredibly eager to mentor (and hire) people who impress me. What impresses me is intellect, passion, and proven ability. Those are things that are invaluable to me – qualities that will forever grab my attention.

When it comes to professional mentoring (we’re are not in grade school anymore folks!), I’m looking for win-win relationships that I can use in my career and business. In a flooded marketplace, your prospective mentor is looking for the same thing, too.

As always, let me know your thoughts about the virtual networking mind shifts I outlined for you above. Do you agree or disagree? What value-based strategies have you used to cultivate quality relationships online and offline?

Marshawn Evans, Esq., is a weekly career columnist for BlackEnterprise.com. She is President of ME Unlimited LLC, a peak performance agency, and is Founder of ME University® – the industry’s premier resource for profitable brand strategy. She is author of the bestselling book, SKIRTS in the Boardroom: A Woman’s Survival Guide to Success in Business & Life (2008). Connect with her online at www.marshawnevans.com, on Twitter at @marshawnevans and on Facebook at ME Unlimited by Marshawn Evans.

Have a question for Marshawn? Continue the conversation on her BE INSIDER NING page at beinsider.ning.com/MarshawnEvans.

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