So you know that your business would benefit if you joined some business networks; you want to meet some like-minded business people and take the opportunity to get your brand better known. But how do you make sure that you use your valuable time most effectively?
What is Effective Networking?
You probably already do a lot of informal networking through chatting to people who you meet at the gym, at the school gate, or at social occasions.
This is all beneficial: as Bob Migliani says in the Huffington Post, so-called “lucky” people are the ones who talk to everyone they meet, “opening up their minds to chance meetings with strangers where one thing can lead to another.”
Business networks offer a more formal approach to meeting people and making new contacts. Everyone you meet will have an interest in one form of business or another, and they will be as interested in you and your business as you are in theirs. But it is essential to do your homework first. According to Ivan Misner, founder of the global business network BNI, if you fail to prepare, “you’re not only wasting your time, you’re wasting the time of the other networkers you talk to.”
Before you attend an event, spend some time thinking about what you hope to achieve, and who you would like to talk to while still being open to the unexpected encounter. Find out who will be there and whether the group has any rules. For example, if there is a strict “no selling” policy, make sure you stick to it!
Check that the information on your business cards is up to date, and that you have enough cards with you to hand out to the people you meet. And, most importantly, consider how you wish to present yourself. Have your “elevator pitch”–a short statement about yourself and your brand–ready.
Build your Brand Instead of Selling
The most successful networkers focus on what they can give, and not on what they can take. This makes sense when you remember that networking is not about selling, but about building your brand. The more that you help people by giving practical advice, providing a valuable contact, or by just listening to problems, the more likely it is that the other person will remember your name. People will come to trust you, and by extension your business, and to recognise you as a valued adviser.
Of course, you want to talk about your own business–that is what the elevator pitch is for–but make sure you spend just as much time listening to the people you meet. Ask them questions, and show an interest. You don’t have to confine yourself to business matters; your new acquaintances will react with delight if you remember and ask after their family members the next time you meet.
Business Rule: Follow Up With New Contacts
It is surprising how many people forget the final rule of networking: Follow Up! As soon as you get home, organise those business cards you’ve picked up (in a card file, or on a spreadsheet, whatever works for you), making a few notes about each person. Decide which ones you would like to get to know better and phone them to suggest another meeting, or email with a snippet of information you think might interest them.
Finally-I cannot stress this enough–if you have promised to do something, make sure you do it. Networking is a great way of building your reputation and making your brand more visible; don’t let broken promises undo the good work.
Business Networking: Critical to Success
Although you may think that the small businesses that quickly prosper are benefiting from Lady Luck – the reality is that most business owners make their own luck. Whether you’re networking in a formal setting or with people you happen to meet at the grocery store; get the word out, promote your brand, present a positive image, and follow up afterwards. You’ll reap the rewards for months and years to come.