Networking is one of the most powerful business growth tools if done the right way. You may have heard of the saying that ‘networking is your net worth’ and this proves to be true especially in the time poor, stress rich environment of business. Couple that with social media where instead of going to the yellow pages or business card folio, people will now put a call out on social media for referrals. Our network now extends further than we ever thought possible even five years ago. Six degrees of separation has been reduced to about two now. This increases the necessity for strategic networking.
Networking of yesteryear was about going to an event, selling your wares, thrusting a business card in someone’s face and expecting business. This is certainly not the case any more and people are much more savvy about whom they do business with and in the majority people hate being sold to! Of course there needs to be a return on the investment of your time in networking but this looks different than it used to and it’s where a change in mindset is needed.
If your expectation from a networking event is to get a sale, you could be very disappointed. Gaining a sale from a first time meeting is rare, not impossible, but people generally want to learn more about you and your business first. Your goal from attending a networking event should be to identify possible synergies with people to trigger a further catch up and the start of building a relationship with them. The synergy could be collaboration, potential sale, a strategic alliance or simply a common interest. The list of possibilities is long; the key is your mindset and what your expectations are.
There is an art to networking and here are 7 tips that will help you network more strategically:
- Men and women network differently. Generally men are transactional in their networking approach where women aren’t quite as direct and value building relationships prior to doing business with others. They key is to understand this and adapt appropriately.
- Be conscious of your brand and the image you want to portray to those around you. First impressions count and are hard to change. Within about 3 seconds a person will have decided if they want feel comfortable with you, ‘buy’ you or connect with you. How you present yourself, communicate and engage are critical to your personal brand.
- Give the person you are speaking to your full attention. Be curious; ask questions to find out more about them enabling you to decide if there is a synergy there or not.
- Gain peoples attention by speaking about the problems you solve and make it interesting. Your aim is to gain people’s interest in what you do and being curious enough to want to know more.
- Network before you need to. This is so important and it will influence how you network. If you are networking to build relationships for example, this will be a much more relaxed style of networking. If you are networking to get a job or get business because you have an imminent need, then that puts a whole different spin on things and creates a pressurized situation for you. The last thing you want to do is come across as desperate! Take the time while things are good and get out there and build your networks.
- Incorporate social media in your networking strategy. Join LinkedIn groups, follow people on twitter, befriend on Facebook but be very strategic in how you use your social media profiles and the information you share. Social media has a direct impact on your personal brand and your reputation. Protect it intently.
- Choose the right event for you. What are you looking for from a networking event? To learn something from a speaker, to meet as many people as possible and have a good conversation with them or a mix of both. Different events offer different opportunities. For example, seated events don’t always provide the same opportunity to meet people as a standing event does but you may hear from a great speaker. Ensure you are investing in the right event for you according to your preferences.
Strategic networking is worth making the time for. Understanding the more you put into it the more you get out of it will enable you to be a better networker and increase the return on investment. Good things take time and there are so many great things to get from networking.