Straight From an Expert: Tips for Building a Great Professional Network

building a great network

When I’m asked to speak about my book New Rules of the Game, Ten Strategies for Women in the Workplace, I say if you only read one chapter, that one should be “Fan Clubs”.

Fan Clubs are my invented words for building a great network, and men seem to do this easily in organizations, but we women are a bit more cautious. We also seem to have less time than the men do, but that’s largely of our own making. We’re out of school—we no longer need to get A’s on our assignments. If you practice “good enough,” you’ll free up time to build your network.

In my 20’s, I moved four times for HBO, meeting clients throughout the country with these moves. So when a national sales job came open at my next job, I used my network to help make a few phone calls to the decision-makers. You don’t have to physically move to build a network. But you do need to put the time in to do this.

Why? We need to have a network because there’s rarely just one supervisor who decides who gets promoted. Your direct boss will have influence, but her colleagues will too, especially if there’s one out there who doubts your readiness. To begin, see your workplace as a large playing field, with lots of men and women running around on it who can help you to advance. It’s a whole lot bigger than the four walls of your department.

A few years back I joined an organization called Committee of 200. It’s an amazing group of the world’s most successful female entrepreneurs and C-Suite executives, and they’ve made a huge difference in my ability to achieve success. I’d been on the ground floor building media brands like HBO, CNBC and HGTV. I was the second employee at HGTV and helped to build the company into Scripps Networks Interactive, a family of six profitable media brands like HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel and a few more. When I left HGTV I realized I’d like to write a book, and my fellow C200 members did everything from introduce me to potential agents, to make calls on my behalf to help with the press. Just last week, a dear friend opened her network at PNC to me, and I addressed hundreds of women in over 20 cities through a livestream event. That night my book reclaimed a top ten bestseller spot on Amazon’s list.

This is the power of building a network.

Below are 5 Expert Tips for Building A Great Network

  1. If you’re working on a project that could use another set of eyes, choose someone from a different department than yours to take a look. Your company has lots of functional expertise scattered all over.
  2. Raise your hand to volunteer for cross-functional teams and task forces. Let your supervisor know too that you’d welcome this work. It’s in these teams that you can meet others outside your department, and to get new and broader learning about your company.
  3. Ask someone to lunch or for coffee that’s in another department, explaining to them you’re trying to learn more about the company and would really appreciate some new perspective from her. This one always works because people do like to talk about themselves. Wouldn’t you do the same if someone asked you? Don’t be shy about asking!
  4. Join a membership organization, like I did with C200. Those outside your company have a different perspective on your industry, and it will enrich you. Plus they may have some job openings you could be interested in!
  5. Say yes to others who may call on you to help them with a project, or may want to know you a little better. Any help I’ve given to others has come back to me in spades.

Growing a network isn’t a luxury anymore: It’s a necessary part of your game plan for success. And unlike some of the more challenging parts of your job, it can be a lot of fun! So enjoy it, and I wish you lots of success.

About the Author

Susan E. Packard is co-founder of Scripps Networks Interactive (NYSE: SNI) and former Chief Operating Officer of HGTV. She was the 2nd employee of SNI and helped to build the company to a market value of over $10 billion. She has been a member of The Committee of 200 (C200), an invitation-only group of the world's top female entrepreneurs and C-Suite executives who work to foster, celebrate and advance women's leadership in business, since 2010. Her book, called New Rules of the Game: Ten Strategies for Women in the Workplace, was published by Penguin/Prentice Hall in February 2015. Join her conversation at @PackardSusan.