Does your company encourage you to network? Working in an organization can create tremendous pressure to remain inwardly focused, simply because those are the people who help you get work done. But, is that good for you long term?

When I talk to people about networking, the typical response is: they join professional organizations. Take a moment to reflect on how much time you spend on cultivating your internal vs. external network. Evaluate if those same people would continue a professional relationship with you if you left the company, either willingly or unwillingly. Are you satisfied with your retention rate?

Some company cultures are down right brutal. The minute you step out the door, your relationships seem to evaporate. It might be management setting a tone – we only want to talk to our people – or your co-workers have not figured out the value of having a strong network outside the organization.

Your reputation develops over a long period of time, and can be destroyed in a moment. Start developing or improving your network today. You will be glad you did – some people tap into it once in awhile, others use it continuously.

Diversify your relationships just as you would any portfolio.

Make a plan on how you want to approach it. There are a number of ways to do this, such as:

Join Organizations

Think about social, professional and volunteer organizations where you’ll meet new people who share a common interest. Some companies may cover your dues in the professional arena, if they don’t, consider it a personal investment to shape your career objectives and opportunities.

If you work on committees, others will take notice of your skills and ability to lead others. By doing something that you are excited about, you will find the time and meeting friends will come naturally.

Update Your Database

Keep track of everyone you meet. Enter their business card information into a contact manager like  Microsoft Outlook 2007 or ACT! by Sage 2009 (11.0). Update changes to their employer, phone number, address etc. When it is time to contact them, you’ll welcome having their information at your fingertips. Periodically send them a note, updating them on what you are doing.

Use Social Networking

Find old and new contacts through social networking. Each service is carving out a niche; use the ones that make most sense for you.

LinkedIn seems to be the place to make professional or business connections. You create a profile which becomes your mini resume or calling card. It is a great place to find old colleagues and to establish new relationships with people in your field or outside your field of expertise.

Many job seekers and recruiters use LinkedIn to locate new opportunities or talent.

Some LinkedIn users may opt to become “power users” where they link with everyone, no matter if they know them or not. I have opted to link with people who I have either worked with or personally know.

Once you connect with someone, you’ll be able to view their connections if they have given you permission. Often you’ll see someone else you know – just send them an invite to link with your profile.

Participate in the group forums. Ask questions or provide answers to others who are looking for information. Sharing your perspective and expertise will build relationships over time. I often receive requests for people to get to know me better.

Facebook offers a more casual atmosphere to connect with colleagues and friends. You’ll find people posting pictures of their pets, family get together and events. Individuals with businesses post information that might be of interest to their connections.

There are fan clubs you can join promoting an event, cause or group.

I primarily use Facebook network to keep in touch with friends.

Twitter is a communication tool for friends, family and businesses. People sign up as followers to view your tweets or messages you send it to your network. The tweets are limited to 140 characters; you learn the short cuts quickly.

You can sign up to follow anyone who has an account; it may be someone famous or anyone who interests you. Create an account with your name or business name in it, for example, mine is: It is about personal brand recognition.

Personal Networking

This is probably the most important aspects of nurturing your network – getting face-to-face or telephone time. Events are great places to make initial contact. Quality time is more private; the better approach is to schedule a follow up phone conversation, breakfast, lunch or coffee meeting.

When networking with someone for the first time, I opt for a low key approach. I leave all my promotional or business materials at the office. I can always follow up with them if they express an interest.

The purpose of the meeting is to get to know them as an individual, not to push my business. I am more interested in how they think, what they believe is important to them and do I want to have a professional relationship with them. Who you align yourself with tells people a lot about the person you are.

Build your relationships from multiple contacts, not just a single meeting. They flourish when both parties have something to offer one another. An immediate turn off is when one party focuses on their needs; discounting the other party’s needs. The value each party brings can be different in context or delivery. The challenge is to find out how both parties can walk away feeling good about the relationship.