A strong network is surely one of the keys to success in business. As the old adage goes, it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters most. The term networking has a negative connotation for some people who interpret it as a way of getting something from other people. In actuality building real relationships and actively maintaining them is what networking is all about. Many small business owners tend to become buried in the day-to-day operations of their businesses. For them, actively networking can become an afterthought or even go completely overlooked. Here, for busy business-owners and the networking newbies alike, a few tips to help bring this effective tool into regular practice.
Busy business-owners sometimes forget to get out there and network. While there’s lots of work to do at the office it’s as important to also be out in the world. While networking opportunities may present themselves at almost any time, it helps to also participate in networking groups. These can include networking events or industry mixers, professional associations, organized professional networking groups that meet frequently and online networks such as LinkedIn. Some experts suggest being active in one of each type of networking group.
Be Clear on What You Provide
As you meet new people for the purpose of building your business network, you will need to describe what you do and whom you serve. You’ll need to do this clearly and concisely in 30 seconds to a minute. Also known as your elevator pitch, your description of what you do should be straight forward and easily understood by others. If you are doing too many things and try to fit them into your 30 second elevator pitch, it will come across as unfocused. In general, as you develop your elevator pitch consider how it will land on your listener. Will it instill trust? Does it intrigue people to hear more? As Jolene McKenna, a business consultant and the founder of the Solopreneur Success System points out, you need to go beyond telling people what you do and instead “tell your story.” It’s the story you tell that intrigues listeners. Combine what you do with your benefits and differentiators to create one smooth story. It takes some work to develop your elevator pitch but it is essential to your success to be able to speak about your business effectively. Write it down, practice delivering it, ask people you trust for feedback – how does it sound to them? Then get out there and speak confidently about what you offer.
Now for the good stuff. Generosity is what networking and relationship building is really all about. Networking is not about what people can do for you, it’s about establishing relationships. It’s about being a resource for other people. In other words, think not what your network can do for you, but what you can do for your network. Help whenever you can. Share your expertise and information freely. Only ask for help when you must and never before having provided some assistance first. According to strategic business coach, Jackie Nagel, you want to figure out how you can support those in your network and their endeavors before asking for support. Nagel also advises that people should be careful to not spread themselves too think with networking. As she points out, networks need tender loving care to survive. “Know how many people you can truly serve,” she says in her article Five Ways To Make Your “Net” Work and Grow Your Business. According to Nagel, “when you can no longer cultivate the current relationships in your network, you may have reached your capacity.”
Whether networking at a casual event or through a professional association, the first contact is merely the beginning. According to business innovation & growth strategist, Sandee Hemphill, “the glue is in the follow-up.” According to her, “the game really begins at the second contact more than the first.” Patrick Powers, an expert on marketing and entrepreneurship concurs this point. According to him, the purpose of the follow up is fourfold. The follow up should:
- make you stand out so they remember you
- build trust in you as a person, not just in your company
- show them that you are a pro at what you do
- have them refer leads and/or do business with you
According to Powers, the fourth and final step is impossible without the first three. Be sure to immediately send a follow up note after meeting at a networking event and consider some of these follow up strategies as you take this important step in your networking.
Remember, networking is a marathon not a sprint. Building longstanding relationships takes time and effort yet offers much in return. Practice often and avoid missteps. As your network grows so will your business.
Networking is a skill you can develop. Like any other skill it comes more naturally to some than others and practicing will make you better at it. For the total networking newbie, it helps to start with some basic information. These beginner books will get you started.
How to Work a Room, by Susan RoAne
Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi
Networking Like a Pro, by Dr. Ivan Misner