When you are trying to build a new business, the value of networking cannot be overstated. Keep in mind that your potential clients are constantly being bombarded with sales messages through advertisements, commercials, telemarketers, flyers, and e-mails. To avoid all of this noise and confusion, many people will ask their friends and family for referrals when they are looking for a particular type of business. In order to make sure that your business is being referred, you need to get out there and build personal relationships. You can achieve many of your business goals through networking. Often you'll be surprised by the different opportunities that networking can open up for you. Through networking you can meet potential customers, create ambassadors for your business, find organizations to form partnerships with, learn about trends and changes that are relevant to your business, and expose yourself to new ideas. While you may be achieving some of these goals through social media, remember that nothing beats the connection that you can build with someone when you are face to face with them. Here are five tips to help you start off on the right track with your networking:
Get out there and meet people. When you meet someone in person, you are better able to establish a rapport, form a relationship and open the door to potential opportunities. In order to do that, you need to be out there. There are lots of different ways to network: look at community newspapers and websites to find out about local business networking events; find committees and networking groups to join in your community; or start volunteering for a cause that you support. Just get out of the house and start meeting people.
Have your elevator speech ready. Whenever you are networking, the first question that people will ask you is, "What do you do?" You don't want to stutter your way through an answer. Formulate a short and clear response to this question. Try to make it interesting by including a hook. For example, instead of saying that you're a corporate recruiter, you could say "I'm a matchmaker for businesses". Instead of saying that you're in communications, you could say, "I help businesses tell their story". Try to use the question as an opportunity to open the conversation. Remember that the next question may be, "What can you do for me?" Be ready for it; it is your opportunity to land a new customer. However, in order to close the deal, you need to know your business well enough to be able to articulate how you can serve any potential client.
Give to your network. Reciprocity is an unwritten rule when networking; you are expected to give to your network at least as much as you receive. Nobody wants to be connected to someone who is only focused on taking from the relationship. Try to spend some time thinking about others. What can you give to your networking contacts? Who do you know that might be interested in their services? Are you aware of any potential opportunities that you can pass on to them? When you stay focused on giving to the people in your network, you will find that they will line up to assist you whenever you need them.
Be genuinely interested in connecting with others. Have you ever met somebody at a networking event who was obviously only interested in furthering their career? They ask you about yourself and once they determine that you won't be of any use to them, their eyes glaze over and they start to look over your shoulder to see who else is in the room. DON'T BE THAT PERSON! The point of networking is not to use people; it is to connect with people and to find ways that you can mutually benefit each other. When you are out meeting new people, try to make a real connection. Learn about them as a person and find out what they do. Try to think about ways that you may be able to use your network to benefit them. Don't try to calculate what you might get out of every person that you meet. If you instead try to get to know people and build long term relationships, it will pay off. Think of networking as a marathon and not a sprint.
Set goals for your networking. You are always more effective in your networking if you have established goals. Goals keep you motivated and they help you to focus your energy. Your goal can be to connect with three new people in the community each month, or it could be to make a strategic connection with one specific business. When you have goals, you approach your networking more strategically, which makes it more likely that you will be successful.
If you're like most people, the thought of networking makes you feel anxious, nervous, and even scared. You don't want to sound like you're trying to sell them something, and you don't want people to think that you're just using them to benefit your business. Remember that business is conducted with people and all you're trying to do is connect with them. If you are authentic and genuine when you meet them and keep your focus on building the relationship, both your network and your business will thrive.