Networking may be the single easiest way to boost your career and, eventually, your income. But unless you’re at a big company or have a stellar mentor, you have to forge the path yourself.

The point of networking is not to make friends. Rather, it’s about building mutually beneficial connections so that everybody wins. Maybe you give someone a referral, then that person comes through when you are trying to build your business or raise funds or find a new job.

The best evidence I can give you is this: I’ve been laid off four times — four! And my next jobs or freelance gigs have almost always come through my professional network.

You probably know all the obvious networking how-tos. And they do work: Give your card to everyone, and make good notes about the people you meet. But to go a little further, here are five networking tips that will help in different times in your career:

  1.    Put yourself out there when you first launch.
  2.    Keep in touch with connections mid-career.
  3.    Build your base as an independent expert.
  4.    Reach out when you’re unemployed and flat broke.
  5.    Tap into your network when you want to raise funds.

Further Reading: “It Takes a Village to Start a Business”

1. The Launch

When you’re just starting out in your first or second job, you should go out and meet people in your field as much as possible. LinkedIn makes it super easy to keep track of people these days, so collect those business cards and follow up. Use this time to collect a broad base. You never know who’s going to wind up a star — or who’s connected to the star you want to work with.

2. Mid-Career

Once you reach mid-career, you will have racked up a long contact list of former coworkers. Don’t let departures or job changes be the end of your connection. They are also building their own networks at their new jobs, and if you stay in touch, you can tap into that when you need to.

3. Independent Expert

Once you’ve done it all and you want to go out on your own, you’re probably going to need clients, no matter what your field.

You need the widest, deepest network you can get in order to build your base.

Don’t be shy about letting everyone you've ever met know that you’re out on your own, with a growing new business. And there may even come a time when you only take referrals. I once spoke with a consultant who said he no longer takes new clients unless they are referrals. He feels there will be an easier understanding with someone who is connected rather than someone who comes in cold.

Further Reading: “The Top 3 Ways to Scale Your Business as a Freelancer”

4. Unemployed and Flat Broke

If you lose your job, a wide network will help you get the next gig. Honestly, I’ve been there. You have to reach out and let people know that you’re looking. The key is that when you do get the next gig, remember what you went through and be generous. Pass along information and give referrals. It’s hard to be out of work, but it’s sometimes even harder to remember what that felt like once you’re back on top.

5. The Fundraiser

When you really want to raise money for a cause, your network will be the first place you go. You may become active in a charity, in politics, or in trying to save the whales. Whatever it is, you’re going to need your people. And the more you invite people to share your enthusiasm, the more they will ask you to share theirs later.