If you ask anyone how they got where they are today, you'll quickly learn that many successful businessmen and women have connections. These connections, however, were likely not handed to them; they were forged through passion and networking.
"Business revolves around people, and it is driven by relationships, which affect every aspect of business from sales to recruitment," said Yiannis Gavrielides, CEO of Covve. "It is therefore important for us all to build and maintain real professional relationships."
With the power of social media, you can network simply by sending an invitation on LinkedIn or following a contact on Twitter. But with increased accessibility, it's more important than ever to build your personal brand and network like a pro. Here's how to do it.
1. Work on your LinkedIn profile.
Social media sites, particularly LinkedIn, have changed the networking landscape. Many people rely on their LinkedIn network for referrals, introductions, reviews and references, all of which come in handy when you are looking for a job, said Michael Brown, a career consultant and author of the book "Fresh Passion: Get a Brand or Die a Generic" (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2013).
Brown adds that anyone you deal with professionally should be added to your LinkedIn network. Even if your contact with these people was short, add them, because you are trying to grow your network.
LinkedIn is also a great space to learn about someone's professional and educational background to find similarities and create great conversation for a first meeting, according to Tyler Whitman, licensed real estate salesperson at Triplemint.
2. Ask for help.
Don't be afraid to ask someone in your network to introduce you to someone they know, Brown said. This is business, he said, and most people are happy to connect you to someone who can help.
You can also ask for help from a networking "wingman." It can be awkward to brag about yourself to a stranger, said Whitman, but if you network with a friend, that person can talk about you and your success, and you can do the same for them.
3. Keep in touch.
Networking is not a one-and-done deal, where you meet a contact and only speak with them when you need something. If you really want to connect, you should nurture a sustainable, give-and-take relationship.
"After meeting someone, assuming there is rapport, I make sure I stay in touch," said Gavrielides. "Staying in touch with people requires effort, and it is important to regularly re-engage … I feel that conversations must be natural, but the effort to re-engage must be conscious, as we are all too busy to do it effortlessly."
4. Never stop looking for opportunities (but do it right).
Focus on growth and think about the people you encounter on a daily basis, said Brown. Grab a business card, or search for them on LinkedIn, if there is any chance you can call on them professionally in the future.
However, the one key tip to keep in mind is not to be selfish when you network, said Whitman. Create a foundation first, he said. Learn about the other person and tell them about you. Once there is a foundation, it's OK to ask for what you want, but don't jump the gun and ask for a favor outright.
"Networking should be authentic and should be part of both our business and professional lives," said Gavrielides. "We are naturally social beings and should ensure we socialize rather than engage in forced exchange. The relationships I built along the way are now customers, suppliers, partners, colleagues, investors … [and] many are close friends."
Additional reporting by Jennifer Post. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.