“How will networking help my business?” This is a question I get asked regularly by small business owners. We hear the term “networking” frequently but not all business owners understand the importance of it or how it works. The purpose of networking is to build your professional contacts and resources. We have all heard the terms “I have a guy” or “It’s all about who you know.” That is essentially what building your professional network is about. Having a “guy” or contact for whatever is needed and being a resource for others in return. The more contacts you have in your network the more opportunities you have to help grow your business. People want to do business with a company or person they Know, Like and Trust. You need to be that person!
Who do you want in your professional network? You want a large quantity of quality relationships. Meaning that not everyone you meet is a good fit for your network. After all, you need to like and trust that person as well. To effectively build your network you need to establish a list of the types of contacts you want or need to create strategic partners who can help grow your list of prospects. This will ultimately grow your lists of customers/clients.
How do you build those relationships? You do not have to be a public relations specialist to build these relationships. However you do need to believe in the product or service that you are representing and be willing to invest time in the networking process. There are ways to help you network more effectively. Here are a few tips to assist you:
- Be yourself. Most people can tell if you are not being real and this can be a deal breaker for people.
- Set a realistic goal of the number of new relationships you want to obtain when attending an event.
- Learn about the person you have met by listening and asking questions.
Contacts are made at networking events but a relationship is created over time after multiple interactions. Spend enough time with each new person you meet to determine if this is a new relationship you would like to pursue. Be sure to ask questions and listen to responses so you can identify if they can be of value to your network. Ask questions about not only their business and or company they represent but also about them. You want to get to know that person on somewhat of a personal level. After all, it is a relationship that you are building and people are more than just a business or job title.
- If you believe they will provide value, give verbal cues that you would like to extend the relationship. For example, “I would like to learn more about your business. Would you like to schedule a time to meet over coffee?” or “I have enjoyed talking with you, I hope to see you at other events.”
- Come prepared with business cards to exchange with potential relationships.
- Get into the habit of following up with all potential relationships within 24 hours of meeting them. Do not wait for them to follow up with you. Create a follow up system that works for you and is effective.
What does networking do for your business? Entrepreneurs have one thing in common and that is to create a business that produces revenue and fulfills their wants and needs. Networking is a great tool that helps in that process and here are a few reasons why:
- The number one reason people network is to help generate new business through referrals. The way to get a possible referral is to build a relationship with these business professionals and gain their trust. The way you build this trust is by quality networking and use the tips listed above. Trust will only build if you are honest and have the understanding that referral system is a two way street. You want to cultivate relationships rather than simply collecting names and business cards. You may not get their business that day or even a few months from when you meet but if you build a business relationship with this person, they will most likely use or refer you in the future.
- Networking can also be a great tool for learning and professional development. Since no business owner is an expert at everything, it is essential to know other people in various professions to turn to when you have questions or need advice. When you have a network of other business professionals, it can make managing and growing your business more manageable.
- Networking is also a form of marketing. The more people you meet, the more people know about your business. The more relationships you build the more referrals you will receive. Social media is a great example. If you company is offering a special it can be promoted on social media. You will get this message out to a lot more people if you have a large network of friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter.
These are just a few of the reasons why business networking is so important to your small business. Connecting with people you can utilize as resources and building up your network will certainly help your business grow and become more successful. Where do you go to network? There are organized networking events such as company functions, conferences, chamber meetings, professional associations, etc. These are the most utilized events for networking, however there are also social events such as fundraisers, dinner parties, book clubs, alumni events, etc. that can be just as effective at meeting quality people. Remember, any time that you meet someone new you are networking and potentially building your network.