One of the smartest steps you can take to build your business is to network effectively. Networking is defined as “the process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.”
Be careful–networking can like you are working and being productive. But if you aren’t networking effectively it’s just a black hole of unproductive activity.
However, if you network correctly you could grow your business to unprecedented heights.
Why Is Networking So Important?
The word “networking” can have a bit of a negative connotation to it. It’s common to envision a meeting where people do nothing other than exchange business cards and taking advantage of free hors d’oeuvres.
Don’t let your networking efforts reflect that vision. Instead, look to form authentic connections with people–and potential friendships.
“Personal relationships are always the key to good business,” said Australian businessman Lindsay Fox. (And he would know, with an estimated net worth of $2.4 billion.) “You can buy networking; you can’t buy friendships.”
If you’re wondering about the value in networking, think of the following scenario: You need some work done on your house, perhaps you need it painted or you need a handyman.
If you can’t or don’t want to do it yourself, who will you call? Chances are you’ll hire someone you know, or call a friend who can recommend someone. This is the power of networking.
If you run a carpentry business and one of your networking connections is renovating a house, there’s a good chance they’ll consider giving you the business–provided you’ve developed a good relationship with them.
In addition, it’s always nice having friends and acquaintances in the business world, even if they don’t own the same type of business you do.
Knowing other business owners–and connecting with them regularly–can bring value to your business, your life, and to those around you.
The Best Networking Tips To Grow Your Business
These tips will help you form valuable and authentic connections and grow your personal and professional network.
1. Know Who Your Target Customer Is
You can form network connections with anyone, but knowing who your target customer is can be vital to saving time and forming the right types of connections. For example, let’s take our carpenter back in my earlier example. What are some examples of a carpenter’s target customer?
- Real estate professionals
- Home Builders
- Home improvement store managers
- Property managers
All of these people groups could have a need for regular carpentry work–or know people who do.
In order to network effectively, you need to think about the kinds of people that may have a frequent need for the products and/or services your business offer. You also need to think about connecting with people who know the kinds of people who might need your services.
The manager at the home improvement store might not need a carpenter, but every day she services customers who might. Think in broadened terms like this as you decide who your target networking customers are. Then work on making connections with those people.
2. Find The Right Networking Opportunities
Networking opportunities don’t just come in the form of monthly meetings with your local Chamber of Commerce–although that is one great option.
You can find networking opportunities at other venues too, such as:
- Local charity events
- Trade shows
- Common interest events such as travel events
- Independent networking groups such as Business Networking International
Social media outlets are another networking venue that can be very valuable. For instance, you can connect with business owners and other potential clients on your city’s Facebook page.
From there, you can form relationships with people in your target customer base. You can “like” things they post or comment on their posts. Be friendly and show a genuine interest in what they’re sharing on social media.
Your goal? To find groups, individuals or events where you might be able to meet other business owners or potential clients. Connect with these people and work to form friendships as well as business relationships.
3. Look To Form Connections And Friends
Yes, you’re looking to form friendships, not just business connections. I know; you’re probably thinking you’re too busy to add more friend obligations on your plate.
However, if you can form some valuable connections where you check in with people on occasion you could form some lifelong relationships. These relationships don’t have to be incredibly time-consuming. Plan a quarterly lunch. Check-in with a monthly phone call.
Simply show a genuine interest in their life and business. The point? Don’t go into this networking thing with the singular goal of obtaining more business. Instead, make it your goal to connect with new people and potentially make some friends as well.
4. Smile, Engage, And Intrigue
A smile and a positive attitude go a long way in forming connections with like-minded people. There’s so much negative in the world; be the person who smiles and says “Hi” in an enthusiastic (but not overly sweet) tone.
Be grateful for the opportunity to meet and connect with new people–and show it with your smile.
Similarly, look to engage and intrigue when you meet people. Introduce yourself in a genuinely funny way. Tell a funny story. Be careful not to come off as prideful or to talk about yourself too much. Just look to add a bit of humor and/or wit to your conversations.
5. Be Genuine
People can spot a fake a mile away. They can also spot genuineness a mile away. Choose to be genuine with the people you meet at networking functions. Ask sincere questions when you’re getting to know them. Then continue in that genuine interest as your relationships grow.
6. Be Curious And Be Others’ Focused
So, you’re at a networking event and meeting other people. Now is the time to be curious. How? By focusing on getting to know the people you meet.
One way you can do this is to ask appropriate questions. Name tags at networking events typically reveal one’s business or career. Ask people about their business.
Or compliment the business if you’ve heard or experienced good things. Share a positive experience you had with the business. Ask your new friends what they like to do in their spare time.
Talk about your business and what you do, but spend the majority of your time being focused on learning about those around you.
7. Listen–And Prove You’re Listening
This tip piggybacks off of tip six. It’s important to spend much of your networking time learning about others. Ask questions, and follow that up with sincere listening as people share their answers. In other words, prove you’re listening.
As an example, if a member shares that they’re a real estate agent, ask them how long they’ve been in the business. Or ask whether they prefer working with buyers or sellers. Get their opinion on the current real estate market and where they think it’s headed.
In addition, ask about their hobbies and interests. Then make a note to remember things they’ve shared so you can bring it up in the future when appropriate.
For instance, you could ask someone about the soccer tournament they mentioned at the last meeting. How did it go? Who won? Take notes after meetings if it will help you remember who talked about what. Try to record a professional and personal detail about each person you meet.
8. Get Involved In The Community
Getting involved in the community is another great way to network. Attend social events such as fairs and public safety events. Go to charitable events and fundraisers.
Make yourself known in the community as a person that cares and gives back. You’ll get the chance to share about your business as you go about caring and participating in these types of events.
9. Take Notes And Create A Plan
As soon as you’ve left a networking event, start taking notes. Make a list of the people you’ve connected with and include information about each one. Write down their business information and any personal life details you may have learned.
Put stars by those you want most to stay in touch with. Reach out and start forming relationships within the week.
10. Provide Value To Your Networking Connections
When forming network connections, it’s imperative that you provide value to those connections. In other words, you need to be a giver. Give by sharing their name with people who may need their services or products.
Share valuable business tools are articles you find. And remember to do so in a positive way. For instance, if a person shares a struggle or if you have a good idea for them, you could say “You know what might work? If you could…….”
It always feels good when someone gives you a hand or help; be that person to your networking connections.
11. Stay In Touch
It’s important to stay in touch with people you’ve met after you attend a networking function. Set aside the next day to make that happen. Do some research on their business or website.
Connect with them via LinkedIn or other social media channels. Follow up via email or social media and tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them. Be sure to add a personal detail to your follow-up note that shows you were listening and remember who they are.
Then look for ways to give. Share links they’ve posted about sales they’re having or information they’re sharing. Spend small amounts of time promoting their business when you have an appropriate opportunity.
For instance, if you meet an auto repair shop owner, forward their posts about service deals they share on their Facebook page. Or, make a call in a week and schedule a lunch. Stay in touch, and do so in a way that helps foster growth in the relationship.
12. Keep Working At It (Practice Makes Perfect)
Most importantly, you have to keep working at making connections–even if you have some fails. Yes, you might make some social mistakes. Some people might turn their backs to you.
Just keep working at refining your networking skills and at building relationships. You’ll get there.
Tools To Help You Be A Great Networker/Relationship Builder
Last but not least, use tools and resources that were created to help you be a great relationship builder. Here are some suggestions.
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People by Vanessa Van Edwards
Read what you can about how to network successfully. Watch people that are great at networking and take hints from them. Use their hints while refining your own networking style.
Being the best “you” is one of the most important parts of networking. This may not come easy at first, but over time you’ll learn if you keep trying. With a little effort and a lot of patience, you can form a networking plan that will help your business thrive.