Today I am having lunch with a group of women who are mostly strangers. My friend Kate has invited me to join her for the mid-day connection with a dozen or so other people. Kate and I work in different industries; have different interests, and different job responsibilities, so it might seem strange that we’re off to network with the fellow ladies who all come from different backgrounds. Yet, I think it’s a great opportunity to expand my connections and have a nice afternoon break from the office.

Too often networking is thought of in terms of maximizing industry connections to link you to your next career move. Yet, the definition of networking is “the art of cultivating people who can be helpful to one professionally. Connecting, distributing widely and/or organizing.” So in order to expand your reach, you’ll want to use every opportunity to uncover the unknown possibilities. Here are a few simple ways you can leverage your current network or business network:

  • It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. We’ve all heard the old adage and it’s true. One of the best ways to use your current connections is to have them expose you to the people they know that you don’t. Set up monthly breakfasts or lunches, invite two friends and have them invite two friends. You now have expanded your network by four new people. Keep it casual; remember this is a way for you to meet new people.
  • Bring value. What do you bring to the table? The most important factor in networking is adding value to a conversation or potential project. You’ve probably worked with people who only seem to be a drain on your resources – and you’ve probably avoided them at all costs. Successfully connecting with others is about mutual benefit.
  • Interact casually, but meaningfully. Meeting new people can be as simple as interacting on a social network. Are you responding, reposting, and sharing your friend’s blogs and posts? Hitting a “like” button is great way to let your friend or colleague know you’re paying attention, but think about how much more impact you have when you join the conversation. You have a chance to show your ability to articulate and connect with others,