Networking: Important or not for my business?
When it comes to your business, most of you will have a thorough marketing or business plan… so why do so few businesses have a networking strategy?
Here’s my guess: For many professionals, networking is a chore – it’s something you do because it’s good for your business in the long run, just like flossing or going to the gym is good for your health. Others dismiss networking as a complete waste of time. In reality, it’s a tool, and when used correctly, it can be extremely beneficial to your business.
Benefits of Business Networking
So, how can networking help your business? There are a variety of ways:
- Build new contacts as potential customers, partners, employees or influencers
- Strengthen existing relationships
- Increase your business and/or industry knowledge
How can I network?
It used to be that you had to get out and meet people to network. And you still do. But you can also do it online, too.
Networking has moved from the Rolodexes and cold calling of days past to the “friend” lists of the digital realm. In fact, even if you try, you may not receive an answer to your phone call or text without the person on the other end doing a bit of online background checking first. That means you need to be sure your online business (and personal) presence is up to par before reaching out to make new connections.
Social media is an excellent place to start. Harness the connections of your coworkers, clients, classmates, friends, and family on Facebook and LinkedIn to explore an unlimited network. Next, use the search functions on social media to identify companies, roles, and fields you’re interested in connecting with. With a clear idea of the circles around you, you’ll be able to navigate professional interactions with ease.
Be warned, that while digital tools make some aspects of networking simpler, they also complicate things by offering a variety of new ways to commit a faux pas or violate etiquette – all for the online world to see. These can range from posting irrelevant or controversial content, sending requests without personal messages or not updating/checking your accounts regularly.
As a result, you should be careful with what you post and share, or what groups you join. In addition, be sure that all of your social profiles match your business or brand essence – from your Instagram stories to your online portfolio to your LinkedIn profile picture. Your online presence should serve as collateral for the business brand you’ve created.
While social media can help you cast a wide net, there is still nothing stronger than a face-to-face interaction. So, how do you meet new connections? Traditional networking events like luncheons and meet-ups are easy ways to survey potential opportunities. Local professional societies, trade events, and conferences are also full of potential connections. And, don’t forget your personal circle: your neighbors, kids’ parents or friends of friends could be excellent business network additions. Genuine social connections can often lead to unexpected opportunities.
In-person networking can be intimidating to the inexperienced, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few key pointers:
- Give your full attention to whom you are speaking with. Be careful not to “work the room,” searching for your next potential prospect.
- Always be honest and authentic.
- Be positive! No one wants to bring negativity into their workplace.
- Talk less. Listen more. Just like Dale Carnegie teaches, listening and encouraging people to talk about themselves is key to getting them to like you.
- Don’t be afraid to ask. People can’t read your mind, so if you want something, speak up.
Engaging with your new network
While finding the right connections may seem like the hard part, maintaining them once they’ve been made is essential to success. From the initial meeting, you need to build quality rapport, so remember, the fortune is in the follow-up. Whether sending an email, a message on LinkedIn or a text, find ways to continue the conversation. How do you achieve positive results during your follow-up?
- Be personal. Don’t blast out emails or request LinkedIn connection requests blindly. Show them that your connection with them is authentic and personal.
- Be timely. Always follow-up from in-person meetings within one week to show they are a top priority.
- Show your worth. That does NOT mean talking about your business, but rather demonstrating how your connection can benefit them.
- Maintain the appropriate amount of contact. Based on the relationship, find the right cadence to keep the lines of communication open… without being a nuisance.
With these ideas in mind, I challenge you to approach your next networking event with a positive mindset; it’s an opportunity, not an obligation. Every interaction can bring new prospects to your business. It all comes down to building genuine, human relationships that add value to the lives of others. Developing these connections on a personal level will lead to a life full of opportunities and fulfillment. You never know – the next happy hour or lunch event you attend might just change your business.