Early in my career, I thought networking felt forced and phony. I didn’t know how to have a natural conversation when I met someone new because I felt pressured to represent myself well or be incredibly brilliant, which left me feeling anxious.

I’ve worked at many great companies like Nordstrom, Expedia and Tommy Bahama throughout my career. I’ve had the privilege of working with amazing people, and I’ve learned invaluable lessons from the leaders I have supported. Now that I lead a team, I also see the value in sharing my experiences, educating others in areas that I’m passionate about and learning different perspectives from my team.

Although it can be nerve-wracking, there are endless benefits to connecting and networking with industry professionals, especially for small business owners. Here are some of the top benefits, both personal and professional, that I gained from learning to network.

1. Gain new perspective on common challenges.

As our business evolves, we’re constantly facing new challenges and opportunities. One way to manage this it to build a network of 5 – 10 individuals in similar or different businesses to meet with regularly and discuss your wins and threats. You’ll be surprised how common your own struggles are, as well as how helpful it is to hear different ways to solve problems. It’s also rewarding to share your wins and hear how others are pushing their businesses forward.

2. Grow a community that will support your endeavors.

One of the best added values from being a part of a professional network is the support the group can give to each other. I’ve been surprised how my network will like or share my company’s and my own successes on social media, attend events we’re hosting or help connect my team with other business leaders. On the flip side, it’s fun to take part in your network’s wins, help them at their store openings or socially share so they win an award. There are many ways to support your network, and it’s rewarding to be involved in supporting others’ wins and brainstorming solutions for any challenges.

3. Develop continued opportunities to share and learn.

What surprised me the most about networking is how much I learn every time I put myself out there to connect with new people. I used to think I was either meeting with someone I needed to learn from or who wanted to learn something from me. Now I see every conversation offers both. You’ll be amazed at how much you learn when you open yourself up to meeting with new people and really listen to their stories about what helped make them successful, as well as the different business obstacles they face. You always have something to learn, and you always have something valuable to teach.

Networking and connecting with others within and outside of my field has been extremely valuable to me personally and professionally. My last piece of advice when meeting new people is to always be authentic, transparent and true to who you are. This will allow you to build strong business relationships with the right connections for you, and it allows others to act in the same manner.

Now, stop reading this and get out there and set up at least one new meet-up a month.

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