There’s far more to building a robust professional network than simply adding dozens of LinkedIn connections. Professionals with strong networks put time and effort into building new relationships and deepening existing ones. Here’s how to grow your network, both online and in real life.

1. Attend virtual events. When it comes to professional networking strategies, industry events offer an opportunity to broaden your knowledge base and skill set. Many conferences now offer virtual options that allow professionals to connect from a distance — and cut down on travel costs. Make the most of these opportunities by identifying three to five virtual conferences or training sessions you’d like to attend each year and then schedule some time with your manager to make your case and secure approval.

Attending events designed specifically for career networking is another way to make connections with professionals — in and outside of your industry. You can find events that will help you connect with fellow Wildcats on the Bear Down Network.

2. Focus on quality over quantity. While it can be tempting to try to connect with everyone under the sun, it’s often the deeper connections that actually bear fruit, so your time may be better spent investing in a select few people. To deepen your existing connections, be intentional about connecting with the right people. Groups on the Bear Down Network give you access to people with similar career and education interests, making it easier to connect with people who can add value to your professional network.

And when you connect with someone, don’t wait until you need something to reach out. Do a bit of homework before you meet with a colleague to give your interaction more substance. Read up on what the person has been doing at work or in the community and strive to make the conversation interesting for them.

3. Find common ground in digital spaces. In online communities like the Bear Down Network, it can be easier to strike up a conversation knowing that you already have a shared college experience in common. Take advantage of the Make Connections tool on the network, which allows you to search available mentors by job function, location and industry. The mentors available have already indicated that they’re willing to help, so you don’t have to worry about catching anyone off guard when you reach out.

4. Develop a monthly meet-up schedule. Identify a few people who you would like to cultivate a relationship with in the coming months — potential mentors, senior leadership, colleagues in different departments — and then start reaching out to schedule lunches and coffee dates. (If in-person meet-ups aren’t possible, consider arranging video chats.) Remember to come to the meeting with some background information on hand and try to bring some value to the conversation by asking them about their interests and accomplishments.

5. Learn something new. One of the most effective ways to expand your network is to look outside your own specific area of expertise. By exploring other professional disciplines, you can discover entirely new sets of contacts and relationships — and possibly even broaden your skill set at the same time.

6. Volunteer or serve on boards. Signing up for a service commitment may require an investment of time, but it can pay dividends by boosting your resume and providing regular networking opportunities at the same time. Aim to select boards that relate to your career field or choose an organization based on a cause you’re passionate about, and be realistic with your time commitment — one-off volunteer opportunities may be more manageable than, say, running for president of an organization.

7. Get started — now! Your professional network won’t grow on its own. To build a fruitful network, you have to take action — attend virtual events, make connections, share information — and you have to do it consistently. Not sure where to start? The Bear Down Network is a great place to get started building your professional network. Update your profile, search for fellow Wildcats and share your journey on the Bear Down Network to start building your network today.