If you are a real people person, networking is likely something you enjoy. But for many owners and professionals, it's hard work because it takes them out of their comfort zone. The good news is that effective networking, just like sales, requires skills that can be learned and mastered - even if you are not naturally outgoing.
If networking is one of your strategies for developing new relationships and potential business, then here are some Do's and Don'ts to make yours more effective:
Do Have a Plan. There are a variety of ways to network. You can join business associations, chambers or groups, get involved with community organizations or your local rotary, attend social or business events, participate in workshops or seminars, go to expos and tradeshows or take a class (hobby, fitness or personal development). All of these provide access to 'new' people and a way to stay connected; but they are only beneficial if they provide access to the people you want or need to meet. Be clear on what you want then take the time to research options, talk to like-minded business owners and ask questions. Then plan your networking and work your plan.
Do Set Goals. Specific, measurable networking goals help you monitor results, modify your approach, and keep you focused on priorities. Include goals around both activities (how much you will do) and results (outcomes you expect). Here are a few questions to consider as you establish your networking goals. How many events or seminars will you attend each month? How many groups will you formally join and participate in this year? How many new prospects do you want to meet each month or at each event? How many new alliance relationships do you want to build?
Do Prepare. Take a few minutes before you attend an event or meeting to prepare. What are my goals, who do I want to meet or reconnect with, how will I introduce myself, what relevant questions or comments do I want to use to initiate conversation, do I need a 'commercial' - if so, how long and what do I want to say? Also, remember to take business cards or other materials that are appropriate.
Do Take Notes & Get Contact Information. Business cards are an easy way to get contact information. Use the reverse side to make notes about the contact and any follow-up actions you commit to do. Keep a small notebook or use your smart phone to jot down notes or contact information for times when business cards aren't available - they forgot them or don't have them on them (we've all been there!). But do think quality, not quantity.
Do Listen. Listening is one of the key skills for building relationships in business and in life. If you go to events ready to talk, you miss the chance to learn, help, give back, uncover opportunities and build relationships. Do you listen to hear or listen to understand? Are you in the moment or are you thinking about the next person you want to meet? Master this skill and you will shine at networking.
Don't Sell. While most people like to buy, nobody wants to be sold. Not on the phone, not at your business, and especially not at an event. Since 'people buy from people they know and trust' use your networking to build a foundation for future opportunities - be patient.
Do Take Initiative. Most of the people in the room are there with the same purpose you are - to meet new people, reconnect with those they previously met or learn something new. So don't hang out in the corner or sit down at a table - mingle! Be willing to approach people, introduce yourself and simply break the ice by asking a question or comment. If you struggle with this, consider preparing a few relevant questions or comments on recent news before- hand. Here's a few questions to get you thinking - Are you a member? How did you hear about the group? Have you heard the speaker before? Do you know anything about the topic being covered tonight? Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Do Create Win-Wins. Networking is not about collecting business cards, but rather about creating mutually beneficial relationships. In other words, helping others and getting help in return. While help may be in the form of customer referrals, it may also be new connections, resources, information or ideas. Networking should never be one-sided. Don't go in with a 'what's in it for me' attitude or people will peg you as a user. On the other hand, abundant giving without receiving will cause resentment. It's all about balance - and creating win-win relationships. Seek out the right people so you can give with abundance and receive with abundance.
Do Get Involved. Did you ever notice how well you get to know people when you work together on a project or committee. It's a natural. So don't just show up at events, join a committee, serve on the board, or contribute your services to the organization to help them grow. It's a great way to give-back to the community, build your reputation for dependability and expertise, get to know like-minded people and you may even develop some true friendships along the way.
Do Have a System For Follow-Up. A brief conversation at an event rarely produces an immediate customer, alliance, business associate or friend. It is merely the starting point or foundation to building the relationship. Too often these opportunities are lost simply because there is no follow-up. A good networking system should provide a method to:
- add new contacts into a contact database such as Outlook, ACT, or Gmail
- make a call or send a note or email - nice to meet you, invite for coffee/lunch
- send helpful, not sales, information based on your discussion - link to a website, information on a class, or an article you read
- connect them with a resource they need -- the dentist, doctor, plumber or accountant they are currently looking for.
By Joan Nowak
Photography by Franz Pfluegel
Joan Nowak is a Small Business Profit Builder, seasoned Business Coach, and creator of the Hybrid Coaching System for small businesses. For additional resources and ideas to grow your small business, visit http://www.HybridBizAdvisors.com. While you are there, join her mailing list to get her monthly eNewsletter and receive a FREE copy of her eBook, Mastering the 7 Elements of Business Success.