How to Build a Professional Network that Drives Business Growth

Gerri Knilans
5 min readApr 29, 2024


The saying that “it’s not just what you know, but who you know” still rings true in business today. Despite digital transformations, global connectivity, and rapidly evolving technologies, a successful business always comes down to its people. The extended networks of employees and other stakeholders are just as important in building sustainable organizations.

Professional networks go beyond liking and sharing posts on social media. “All things being equal, people buy from those they know, like, and trust,” says Peter Cotton, founder and president of Best Sales Talent and The Cotton Group and co-founder and vice president of the networking group NeXco National. “Networking is all about building those relationships so that people can refer possible customers to you, or to make a purchasing decision on what products or services you offer,” Cotton says. A strategic professional network helps individuals build new skills and knowledge, generate referrals, and develop strategic business partnerships.

Steps to Create Networking Opportunities

Building and tapping into a relevant and diverse professional network can yield new opportunities, valuable insights, and lifelong supportive connections. This is true whether you’re a seasoned business owner or new to the workforce. Here are five ways to foster a professional network that makes a positive impact:

1. Join relevant associations and networking groups.

Every professional group offers unique missions, services, and formats. As such, it’s vital to conduct thorough research before joining. When a networking group is relevant to your professional or organizational objectives, it’s more likely you’ll find value in your connections.

Groups can cover geographical areas or business roles, or encourage cross-industry networking and mentorship. For example, Vistage brings together CEOs from non-competitive companies. Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) connects entrepreneurs on a global scale and offers a program for students. NeXco National promotes B2B networks with 250 vetted, professional members and 22 chapters. Cotton emphasizes how connecting with the mission of the network is important. “Nexco National is a framework for business development, which has at its core, a mission to help all of its members grow their business.”

Other specialized groups include ProVisors and Young President’s Association. In addition, many industry-specific associations offer global, national, and regional opportunities for connecting with industry peers. Attend virtual and in-person networking functions and take an active role in the organization. At the same time, don’t overcommit to too many groups to make the most of your memberships.

2. Become a guest, panelist, or speaker on webinars and podcasts.

Professional audiences love learning in a conversation-style environment. This makes webinars and podcasts especially valuable for sharing thought leadership. In a time when digital storytelling is thriving, podcasts and webinars can address highly specific or niche topics.

“Podcasts position you as an expert and authority in your market, differentiate you from the competition, connect you with high caliber potential clients and referral partners, build long-lasting relationships with your current customers, and establish an evergreen content engine to bring in more traffic and incoming leads on a consistent basis,” says Dr. Jeremy Weisz, co-founder of Rise25, an organization that helps businesses connect to their dream clients through podcasting. This means if you’re presenting on the right channels, the audience you reach is already established and highly targeted.

In addition to being a guest, consider hosting webinars, podcasts, or other digital conversations to create valuable opportunities to connect with other experts and learn directly from them. These avenues will help you build your strategic network.

3. Apply for professional awards, lists, and directories.

Professional awards can establish you as an expert in your field and increase visibility and credibility with target audiences. At the same time, awards can open doors for future opportunities. Keep in mind that professional awards typically have an application and review process associated with a group and panel of judges. Simply applying can be a great opportunity to expose your work and accomplishments to new audiences while creating valuable connections. Winning an award is an even more exciting achievement, so be sure to share it with your teams, stakeholders, clients, partners, and press.

4. Attend and present at relevant conferences, trade shows, workshops, and summits.

Especially in the B2B marketplace, conferences and other events offer opportunities to gather with a large group of your target audience and industry leaders. Exhibit at trade shows or attend business events to connect one-on-one with prospects and other potential partners. Not only can this result in the acquisition of new clients, but it fosters vital opportunities to build a professional network outside typical outreach channels as well. Presenting at events can be a powerful way to amplify your thought leadership authentically with a personal touch.

Adam Levin, CEO of Information Experts and cofounder of NexCo National emphasized the importance of authentic business relationships on Winter Baserva’ podcast The Shift Spotlight. “Ultimately, if you’re inauthentic and you’re not focused on your audience’s needs and values, people can sniff that out,” Levin says. “When your initial mindset is about solving their problems and being real, it helps them clearly understand what you can and can’t do. Even more important, if you can’t solve their problem, act as a value-added resource and refer someone else who is an expert in that niche. That’s authentic network building and authentic marketing.”

5. Publish thought leadership through relevant magazines, journals, and trade publications.

While it’s common to share thought leadership through your website, social media, or blog, it’s vital to reach new audiences through established channels, including trade publications. Don’t fall for the myth that trade publications with a smaller circulation result in less growth for your business. Oftentimes, the opposite is true. Trade publications and magazines are an essential way to share valuable expertise with a uniquely targeted audience who can benefit from your products or services. Editors, audiences, and stakeholders are often industry leaders and decision-makers. As a result, new connections can result in highly beneficial partnerships, referrals, and new clients.

“Who You Know” Shapes “What You Know”

A robust professional network offers ongoing learning opportunities, new professional avenues, and business growth. While digital channels keep us connected online, in-person networking is essential. According to B2B publishing expert Cory Sekine-Pettite, “Social shares and followers don’t always mean a direct line to your audience. It’s a direct line to that individual and contributes to that valuable first-party data and acts as a way to convert.”

The more meaningful connections you establish in your professional network, whether through in-person events, remote conversations, digital avenues, or industry publications, the more paths you establish to instigate personal, professional, and organizational growth.

Originally published at on April 29, 2024.



Gerri Knilans

Marketing communications strategist. The right message. The right medium. Guaranteed.