An important part of building a business is networking. Defined by Dictionary.com as “a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest,” networking is a necessary activity for any business built on meeting new people and acquiring new customers. And while you can certainly network anywhere, having a strategic approach to your networking can help you maximize networking experiences and grow your business even more quickly. Here are some tips:
- Develop a profile of the kind of person that needs what you have to offer. Instead of trying to meet as many people as you can, pinpoint who you want to meet. Write down their needs, their desires, other interests they may have, and the kinds of social events that interest them. Then you’ll know your best options for networking places, and topics of conversation that will interest the kinds of people you’re looking for. You’ll also be better able to identify a solid prospect early in the conversation, ensuring that the time you spend networking is likely to lead to results.
- Start by giving. While it may be tempting to enter networking situations with the sole purpose of finding prospects for your business, be sure you are also focused on how you can help others. Networking works best when you make connections, share resources and demonstrate that you’re committed to the entire group, not just yourself. For example, a real estate agent came to a chamber of commerce networking event to find new clients. However she first listened to what others at the event had to offer, and introduced some other business associates that she knew who had a need for what others sold. By making connections that benefited others first, people in the group were more willing to introduce friends to her that were looking for new homes, which ultimately helped her build her business.
- Network in new places. It can be tempting to just stick with the same networking group for all of your networking. After all, you develop a comfort level with a certain group of people and don’t have to stretch so much after everyone knows you. But this isn’t what leads to the greatest growth. While it is important to develop strong, ongoing relationships with people, be sure you are also committed to consistently finding new groups of people, helping them while also gaining new contacts to grow your business.
- Connect online after the initial contact. You’ve likely had the experience where you meet someone, connect online, and then don’t see them again for a year or so. However, you feel more connected when you see them again because you’ve seen each other’s photos, commented on life events and generally feel more connected than with people you don’t talk to for a year. So be sure to connect with good prospects online after the initial event, and comment both professionally and personally to keep the connection going. You never know when it may lead to a new customer or prospect for your business.
- Host your own gatherings. In addition to seeking out networking opportunities that others provide, be sure to spend some time creating your own networking opportunities as well. The organizer role helps you to connect more deeply with participants and ensures that you will meet every single person at the event. And it also positions you as someone who is a connector and gives back, which increases your stature and the stature of your business in the community.
While networking will never replace your core business activities, it is an important task to engage in regularly to grow and expand your business connections. Try to schedule a networking event at least once per month to give yourself the contacts you need to grow.
Do you network for your business? What tips would you give to someone just getting started? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below!