You spend your first few years in any career building up a network – it can be people you've worked with, people you've interviewed with, or peers in your industry. According to the Harvard Business Review, there are actually three kinds of networking: operational, personal and strategic.
"The first helped leaders manage current internal responsibilities, the second boosted their personal development, and the third opened their eyes to new business directions and the stakeholders they would need to enlist."
I've used my network of former colleagues, professional contacts and industry peers for all three types of networking – as research for my book, guidance on new projects, and for general peer to peer coaching.
Here's a friendly email template you can use:
My name is Ailbhe, and we follow each other on Twitter. I love your work on XYZ – I think the way you write about XYZ is so smart and great. I've written a book and would love to send you a copy – would that be ok?/ A former employee of mine has gone freelance and I'd love to put her in touch with you – would that be ok?/ I'm giving a speech at an event, and I know you have a lot of experience in this area – would I be able to buy you a coffee and ask you some questions?"
If you're reaching out to someone by email, be sure to be clear about your expectations. It's not fair to send a general "can I pick your brains" email. When I've received these emails, it often entails more work on my end – I have to find out what the sender actually wants to discuss, and what they expect to get out of the conversation.
Read more here: How Leaders Create and Use Networks