In today’s economic climate, networking is an essential activity to maintain your business’ viability. When you get out there and meet people, developing deep and lasting relationships, you are insuring your business’ client base. It is commonly known that people buy from people that they like and trust; networking is the key to building these quality relationships. So, how do you maximize your networking activities?
1. Think Local
Start your networking activities by attending networking events in your local area. Do not seek to cover all areas; rather develop meaningful relationships in the client area you focus on most. Research your local networking groups and aim to attend a few. When people recognise you are actively engaged in the community and are a familiar face at networking events, they will be more likely to show an interest in you.
2. Be Consistent and Committed
Networking is like building any other relationship; it is achieved through consistency. You will achieve the best results if you make a commitment to attend most, if not all, of the events offered by the networking groups that you join. When you do attend be punctual and be prepared to stay for the duration of the event. A token appearance will not allow you to build meaningful relationships, nor will it make a good impression on the people there.
3. Be Confident
If you have decided to put the time into networking for your business, approach the activity with confidence. You need to be able to actively engage people in conversation, and be confident enough to talk to strangers. The pay-off is that these people won’t be strangers for long, and the more you get used to talking to new people the easier it becomes. If you have difficulty with new crowds of people, perhaps consider doing a public speaking course first, or start with a small networking group where you can build your confidence.
4. Be Friendly
When you meet new people, or reconnect with people you have met previously, remember to be friendly and approachable. The key to effective networking is showing an interest in other people; get them to open up and tell you about themselves. It might be a good idea to prepare a few “ice breakers” before you attend an event. You could ask questions about their business, what their business challenges are, and what they like about their job. Ask questions that allow the person to feel comfortable sharing with you and the conversation will then flow naturally.
5. Be Prepared
One of the best things about business networking is that it forces you to think about your business and how you want to be perceived. Before you start networking decide how you want to present your business to people. Think about the future direction of your business and how your new relationships might help you move forward. When you are prepared you can quickly and easily answer other networkers’ questions about your business, which will better enable them to refer the right business back to you.
6. Actively Listen
Everyone networks for the greater good of their business. When you actively listen to people you will come away from the event with the right knowledge to make quality referrals. You might have met an accountant at a recent event who spoke to you about his passion for “x”. The next day your local “y” says he needs someone to do “x”. Because you were actively listening you quickly match up the two and are able to make a referral.
A note of warning here: only refer to people when you feel comfortable doing so. You are not obliged to pass on referrals just because you are part of the same network. This is why building trust and confidence in your fellow networkers is crucial.
7. Follow Up
Do not go to a networking event and then expect things will just happen. Networking is an ongoing activity that needs to be constantly reinforced, just like a personal friendship. If you have permission, you can stay in contact via email. It is also a nice idea to send small cards to thank people for their time speaking with you. If you feel that you would really like to connect with one person in particular, organise a one-on-one with them. Think of a unique and personal way that you can maintain contact with people. But, do not spam people or be too pushy. Remember, you are building a meaningful relationship and the hard sell is the quickest way to ruin that connection.