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At Global Professionals Practicum (GPP), where we help clients build professional relationships and networks, I’m often asked about how to start networking. While many professionals recognize networking is important, they aren’t sure where to start or what best practices will help them succeed.

There are five key questions you should be asking to start networking — and succeed:

Who should I be connecting with?

Who you should be connecting with is linked to your goals: who can make them possible?

Think about the key players that can help you reach your goals- potential clients, investors, industry leaders, etc. They are the people you should be connecting with. Industry conferences, trade organizations, newspapers magazines are a good way to find and connect with key players in your industry.

There are also people outside of your related field you may want to connect with, people who are doing interesting work or whom you find inspiring. They can be fantastic cheerleaders and mentors as you work towards your goals.

Entering a large event and meeting with strangers is intimidating. How can I overcome that?

Be prepared! It’s much less intimidating to enter a large event if you know who you want to speak with, and what you’d like to say.

Check with the program for the names of key figures you’d like to meet and make sure you attend those sessions. Be ready to introduce yourself, and arrive early at events where they’ll speak or stay behind to speak with them.

If you get the opportunity to connect, be prepared with smart questions- something that can’t be answered by a quick Google search. You should have a general idea of what the person is like (public LinkedIn and Twitter accounts offer insight into what they are like as a person or what they feel strongly about), and be up-to-date about what’s happening with their company.

Everybody has something of value to contribute and share: being prepared helps you find the most effective way to connect.

What is one of the best networking strategies you’ve used?

Make sure you get one-on-one time with the person you want to connect with, especially if you’re at a large event, such as a conference.

Arrange to meet with the other person on their own terms. It’s often possible to slip into someone’s schedule if you send out a request to connect in advance.

Think of it from a speaker’s perspective: during an event, they might speak to a crowd of several hundred people and perhaps meet with a dozen audience members.

You’re far more likely to make an impression if you meet with someone individually. It gives you the chance to convey who you are, why you’re interested in meeting with them and speak about common experiences in order to really connect.

How quickly do you follow up after making a connection?

As soon as possible. In my experience as a speaker, the follow up I remember best is usually the first one I receive.

As a general rule of thumb, I advise our clients to follow up with someone within 24 hours of making a connection. I would recommend sending a brief email – it should express your gratitude, mention a memorable part of your meeting, and reaffirm any commitments either of you may have made.

If you really want to impress, you can follow your email with a hand-written note to add a personal touch.

Is there such a thing as too many connections / clients? What do you do then?

As long as you can maintain a genuine relationships with your connections or clients, then more connections shouldn’t be a problem.

Social media and contact management applications are useful if you have large network -they can remind you to reach out every couple months, and during personal events such as birthdays.

Reaching out is especially effective if you can provide value when you touch base. It can be as simple as sharing an article or podcast that they might find interesting, to offering to connect them with a business associate.

This article is part of an ongoing series on how to build successful professional relationships and networks. Follow us at Huffington Post or Global Professionals Practicum

Jessica is the Founder and CEO of Global Professionals Practicum.

To help make professional coaching accessible to everyone, Global Professional Practicum (GPP) is making our Influence Plus program accessible to the public as an online course launching next week.

Influence Plus will cover the fundamentals of networking and best practises suitable for both young and experienced professionals. It has taught people how to connect with top leaders, gain access to exclusive events and incredible opportunities.

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