Networking Tips for Busy Professionals

Aside from skills, networking is arguably the most important aspect of any professional's career.

After all, the right connections can lead to personal growth, career opportunities and more. When someone is wrapped up in their day-to-day tasks, however, it is very easy for networking to be put on the back burner.

Fortunately, it is never too late to change your habits and make a commitment to fostering meaningful relationships with industry thought-leaders and influencers. Read below to discover five networking tips that can open up a whole new world of opportunities for busy business professionals:

1. Reach out.

While it is always a good idea to make new connections, the first step to better networking is to reach out to old connections. This can be as simple as going through your contact list and sending a message asking someone how they are doing, or can be taken a step further by setting up a lunch and/or coffee meeting with acquaintances you haven't seen in a while. Regardless of the method taken, it is important that these efforts don't stop after connecting just once.  Rather, it is wise to set aside some time each month to continue communications with your network and strengthen relationships over time.

2. Make a commitment to social.

It may seem silly, but social actions such as "likes," "shares," "comments," "favorites" and "retweets" go a long way. And although you may be pretty active on one or two social networks, most professionals can improve their networking efforts by focusing on other social sites too. For example, if most of your social activity happens on Twitter, why not make an attempt to also engage with Facebook or Instagram? It is important to note, however, that not all social interactions qualify as networking. This is why it is vital to include industry leaders in your social circles and focus on interactions with these people.

3. Join groups/communities.

Professionals can take networking a step further on social media by joining groups and/or communities of like-minded people. LinkedIn, for instance, offers a Group feature that enables professionals to join niche communities. In fact, LinkedIn offers a variety of Groups, from Groups that cater to public relations professionals to city-specific Groups like "Young Professionals of Chicago." It is important that once you join a Group, however, that you participate with the conversations happening within it and/or contribute topics of your own.

Although LinkedIn will have the most professionally-themed groups, it is not the only social network to offer this capability, as both Facebook and Google+ offer similar features. What's more, professionals can scour the 'Net to find niche communities related to their industry. Creative professionals, for example, may want to join Behance, which is an online platform that enables members to connect and show off their portfolios.

It is also important to keep in mind that networking with like-minded groups and communities can (and should be) done offline as well. This can be done by going to industry conferences and seminars, or by enrolling in offline classes to improve your skillset. After all, it's never too late to learn, and you never know who you might meet along the way.

4. Be responsive.

This seems like such a simple tip, but it is not uncommon for professionals to forget to respond to an occasional email or LinkedIn message. This is why you should make a commitment to respond to every interaction no matter how small. To keep yourself on track, try coming up with an acronym for your daily work tasks and follow it. For instance, a communications professional may create the "RACES" acronym, which stands for: research, analytics, content creation, email and social. As you can see, each letter stands for a different daily task, which can help professionals manage their time better and make sure that they are paying attention to every task, including responding to both email and social messages.

5. Network while on the go.

Last but certainly not least, professionals should realize that networking isn't just a 9-5 job. Rather, networking can be done anywhere and at any time of day. In fact, LinkedIn has a suite of mobile apps that make it easy for professionals to connect with each other while on the go.

The traditional LinkedIn mobile app, for instance, provides users with a news feed of updates, including connection mentions. What's more, the app makes it easy for users to engage with their connections by providing calls-to-action (CTAs) on notifications. For example, a "send message" CTA will be displayed on a notification about a connection's mention in a recently published article. This makes it easy for users to congratulate the person with very little effort.

In addition to its main app, LinkedIn also offers a Group app, as well as the LinkedIn Lookup app that helps users connect with colleagues. It is important to note that industry-specific communities, such as the aforementioned Behance, typically offer apps as well, which also enable users to network while on the go.