In order to grow your business, you have to network. And I’m not referring to online social networking. I’m talking about offline, in person networking. There is just no way around it. Many people don’t like to network and cringe at the word and the thought of it. And, I do sometimes too because it can be very nerve wracking to enter an event where you don’t know a soul. I completely admire those who seem to be natural networkers. You know the type, they effortlessly are able to talk to anyone, anywhere at anytime about anything. That is so not me but I am definitely working on it. Because I’ve learned that you can’t stay behind the computer all your life. No my friend, you got to get out there and actually interact with humans. If the thought of doing that freaks you out, don’t worry. Networking is not something only for the social butterflies. It’s a skill that can be learned if you keep at it.
What is networking?
At its core, networking is about building relationships, that’s all it really is. And relationships take time to build so you need to get started. Just like you wouldn’t meet someone today and marry them tomorrow, you wouldn’t meet someone at a networking event and then ask them to buy your product or service the next day. It takes time to build that know, like, and trust report. So, let’s get started.
What’s your strategy?
You have to be strategic in your networking. Don’t just go meet people for the heck of it. Oh no my friend, you are networking for a purpose. So, decide why you are networking. Is it to find business partners, generate word of mouth, get speaking engagements, etc. You decide!
Once you’ve made that decision, your next step is to find the events where you can meet the people who are going to be able help you or are connected to an organization, company or industry that can get you to where you want to go. Classy Career Girl put together a networking challenge for 2011. It’s geared towards job seekers but you can still use it to put together a plan for you business networking strategy.
Enough about me, tell me what you think of me
Don’t focus on yourself. The saying goes “focus on being interested not interesting.” It means you take a genuine interest in other people and focus on how you can help them, instead of wondering how they can help you. Many people believe the way to network is to show up at an event and start pushing themselves and their product/service on everyone they come across or to collect as many business cards as they can. This is a no-no. Remember, networking is about building relationships. How excited would you be to get involved with someone who only cared themselves? Not very! So treat your networking as if it were the start to a budding new friendship. When you are interested in getting to know someone they will be interested in getting to know you. It’s just that simple.
Success is in the follow-up
Exchanging business cards or contact info is only a small part of networking. It’s the following up afterwards that is important. Don’t be lazy. Make sure you follow up within 24 hours of meeting. You can send an email or if you’d discussed meeting up, call and set up a time. Be proactive! As Ivan R. Misner, PhD, Founder of BNI and author of The 29% Solution says, “It’s not ‘NET-SIT’ or ‘NET-EAT’ –It’s ‘NETWORK.’ Successful networking is about learning how to “work” the networking process–not just letting it happen.”
Sharing is caring
Networking is a give and take, not a take, take, take. In your conversations with your networking contacts, you will be asking them questions to learn more about them. You will no doubt hear them say they are looking for something or realize they have a special interest. Make it your business to keep your eyes and ears open for the solution to their problem or something that they may find interesting. While you are out networking, you may also meet people who you can introduce them to and become a connector. Your network will love you if they know you care about them.
The bottomline is networking is vital to your career success and while you are growing your business you need to make it a focal point of your day.
Ask yourself the following questions, now:
- Who or what industries do I need to network with?
- How many hours a day or week am I going to devote to networking? (That includes researching and finding what places you need to be to get noticed or meet people that can hire you/buy your services or know people who may be interested in your product/services.)
- How many events will I go to in a month?
- What part of my day will I devote to following up with those I’ve met?
- How many people a week will I meet up with for coffee?
If you keep a busy schedule for networking, you will reach a point where people will be contacting you with client referrals, speaking opportunities, media attention, or whatever goals you set for yourself for networking in your strategy. And, then you’ll be come a natural networker yourself.