Networking can be defined as “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business” (Merriam-Webster).

LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network, with almost 550 million members at the writing of this article. This presents an unprecedented opportunity to exchange services, cultivate relationships and secure referrals at scale.

First step: Build your network.

Connect with every single person every single day with whom you have a meaningful business interaction.

Say you have a meeting with a business owner. If two of his employees join the meeting and the meeting was arranging by his administrative assistant, that is a total of 4 people at the meeting in addition to yourself. Connect with all of them. You will be amazed at who knows who. Maybe the administrative assistant who arranged the meeting is married to another local business owner with whom you have been trying to get a meeting. Nurture the relationship and then ask for an introduction.

Connecting on LinkedIn with the people with whom you have a meaningful business interaction on the same day you meet them is more important than you might think. Why? You are still fresh in their minds. I’m sure your meeting was positive. But that business owner and her colleagues will have many more meetings that week. If you connect two weeks later—or even two days later—a lot will have happened in that person’s life, both personally and professionally. Connect while you are still fresh in her mind.

I shared best practices around sharing content on LinkedIn in my previous article, “Best practices for using LinkedIn in 2018“. By connecting on the same day, it gets your content into that person’s feed on LinkedIn immediately. This keeps you front of mind with the business owner and increases the opportunity of your content impacting her decision in favor of you and your company.

By connecting on the same day, you increase the opportunity for immediate warm introduction opportunities into that business owner’s network—and there is a high probability she is well connected in the business community.

Do not try to connect with business owners on LinkedIn before you have had a meaningful business interaction. You have not shown any value yet. You have not earned the right. Some may accept your connection requests but many will feel it is too salesy and invasive. Do not let an aggressive approach establish your brand negatively with those business owners.

When you do connect with people, customize your connection request. Thank them for taking the time to meet with you and say how much you are looking forward to helping them achieve their goals.

Next: Acknowledge professional and personal milestones.

Do this for every single person in your network.

LinkedIn provides alerts for key life events: birthdays, work anniversaries, promotions, and job changes. Leverage them. The business owner might not be ready to start a business relationship with you yet. But by acknowledging moments that matter to her, you stay front of mind and demonstrate that you are more than just a sales person. You are a human being who cares.

Do not be lazy and just hit the quick response options provided by LinkedIn. Everyone does that. Slow down and take 2 minutes to expand the Congrats to a custom note. Perhaps: “Congrats on the expanded role at [X company]. Super excited for you and so well deserved. Look forward to hearing all about it when we next meet.” It’s a more engaging and professional.

This approach differentiates you from the majority of LinkedIn users who take the easy and lazy option. It elevates you in the mind of that business owner.

Contribute content to educate and inform your network every single day.

We’ll talk more about that in my next article.

Remember to like, comment, or share the business owners’ content when it appears in your feed. You should not like absolutely everything. That would be creepy. Be selective.

When you comment on it, do not just write, “Great article.” Perhaps try “Love what you and [Company X] are doing to support the local community and our schools. It means so much to many of us here in [Location]. Thank you!” It is more meaningful to that person and demonstrates that you have taken the time to read the content and form an opinion.

Final thoughts.

Connect immediately with every single person in your company… today. If you work for a massive global organization, start by connecting with everyone in your division or business unit. Customize your connection requests. Just because they work at your company and they are fellow employees, it does not mean they know you or necessarily want you in their network. Be human. Introduce yourself and explain how you are only a message away if you can ever help them with anything. But do not just say it. If someone reaches out for help or you see that they might benefit from your assistance or guidance, be proactive. Remember, networking is the exchange of information or services among individuals, and the cultivation of productive relationships.