Your professional network is arguably even more important than your professional education and your learned skill set. It can open work opportunities, help you get promotions, and play a huge role in your professional development.

However, not everyone is particularly good at building up a network, and not everyone has a few peers to get started with in the first place. Today, let’s break down how you can build a network from scratch or how you can expand the network you already have. With the right network, anything is possible.

COLLEGE GRADUATE? JOIN YOUR ALUMNI CLUB/ASSOCIATION

One good way to build a network is to join an alumni club or association, presuming you’re a college graduate. These clubs are some of the most effective networks you’ll ever access and are included in your college experience. By joining them, you immediately get access to university-specific resources, connections, and more.

Even better, everyone who is a part of an alumni club has at least a few shared experiences simply as a result of going to the same university. It can be difficult to build a network with individuals with whom you don’t have much in common, but that obstacle simply isn’t present with an alumni network.

Chances are, you likely made a few connections during your time at college anyway. You can usually find these former friends or acquaintances using the alumni network and bootstrap a personal network this way.

USE SOCIAL MEDIA

Social media is the most invaluable tool for building a network these days. It doesn’t matter what occupation you have or what industry you’re in; every industry, from blue-collar white-collar, has people who use social media.

This isn’t to say that everyone uses social media the same way. In fact, most people who use social media don’t do it for the explicit purpose of growing their professional network. Instead, they use it to keep up with friends, stay in touch with distant family members, and so on.

Still, social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn represent invaluable tools you can use to grow and maintain a network that would be difficult to keep track of otherwise. You can have literally hundreds of contacts between both pages.

Furthermore, social media platforms like LinkedIn can be really useful for getting new network connections, particularly in professional contexts. Only on social media is it appropriate to try to connect with a fellow professional out of the blue. Calling or writing to them in person would be seen as odd these days, to be sure.

Overall, leverage what Facebook and other social media platforms can provide. If you don’t already have a network, start by connecting to your friends and immediate coworkers, then go from there.

ALWAYS STAY ON TOP OF INDUSTRY DEVELOPMENTS

If you want to build a good network, you need to be a relevant individual within your company or industry. To this end, it’ll help if you stay on top of industry developments throughout your professional tenure.

Furthermore, you can make yourself a worthwhile person to know for other potential connections by writing or speaking about industry developments. Become a known voice or character within your organization and people will be more likely to want to connect with you – they may even do it themselves instead of you having to take the first step!

ASK FOR REFERRALS

If you’re having trouble finding new professionals to connect with, it never hurts to ask for referrals. Referrals are a much better way to get personally introduced to someone in your industry or someone who can help you professionally than knocking on your door yourself.

Think of it from the perspective of a potential business partner; would you rather someone approach you out of the blue, or have one of your trusted friends or colleagues introduce a new person instead? The big difference is tacit approval or worthiness.

To do this, simply ask your friends and colleagues if there’s anyone they think you should get to know. It’s not a “sneaky” move; everyone knows the power that a professional network and hold over one’s work life. People are usually more than happy to connect folks they like to one another, and some people take particular pride in forging webs of personal connections that they can see blossom into worthwhile business and personal relationships.

Chances are your immediate friend group or coworkers have at least one of these people in their midst.

ATTEND EVENTS

While remaining relevant in your industry is important, one of the best ways you can do this is to attend work events or professional seminars. These provide you with practical or academic benefits by giving you current knowledge in your industry and helping you to expand your skillset.

More importantly, they give you opportunities to socialize with other professionals in your field. This is why purely social events are also important. There’s no way to build your network better than to attend an after-work get together at a bar, club, or similar location. These may seem useless if you’re a particularly analytical or work-focused person, but they provide real and measurable benefits as you make friends with your coworkers in more relaxed settings.

DO GREAT WORK

There’s one more thing you should keep in mind when trying to build a great network. You have to do excellent work in whatever industry or field you’re in. You can spend all the time and energy you want building a network from scratch, but none of it will be worthwhile if the people you connect with don’t think you’re a worthwhile business or work partner.

So it’s a good piece of advice to keep doing great work in your profession. Always try to excel and stand out and make yourself invaluable to whatever team you’re currently a part of. In fact, being an irreplaceable part of your industry will go a long way toward helping you build a network by itself. People will be more likely to seek you out for your advice or assistance.