Looking to boost your business? Want to create valuable contacts within your community and beyond? Networking is an essential skill for every entrepreneur, manager, and small business owner, helping to create connections that can lead to orders, acquisitions, investors and new opportunities.
Networking is different from other forms of business marketing because it focuses on developing strong personal relationships with other entrepreneurs, business leaders and industry insiders. While websites, direct email campaigns and advertising are all about promoting your business, networking is geared towards sharing ideas, seeking opportunities and raising your personal profile as a leader within your local business community.
Depending on how comfortable you are with meeting new people, attending social events and exchanging ideas with other business owners, your feelings about networking could range from excitement to dread. Either way, the fact is that networking is a must-do activity for anyone who wants to grow their enterprise, establish working relationships with other business owners, and achieve an edge over the competition.
Here are some essential tips you can use to successfully network for your business:
Evaluate Your Current Contacts
Start by taking stock of your current contacts and connections, looking for any notable gaps in terms of expertise, experience, or location. If you hope to expand your business to another location, check to see if your network includes professionals in that area – if not, make attending a networking event in that area a priority.
Do you need to network to help support your business goals? Make a list of who you’d like to build professional relationships with, and seek out opportunities such as organized networking events, fundraisers and information sessions where you can introduce yourself to new contacts.
Always Carry Updated Business Cards
With the shift toward paperless billing, email and web-based information, many people tend to overlook the value of the tried-and-true business card these days, and that’s a big mistake.
According to Jonathan Long, Founder and CEO of Market Domination Media, “Networking is about making genuine connections. Sending contact information via text or email on the spot is convenient, but it is also extremely impersonal.”
A well-executed business card creates a lasting impression of your brand; it lets people know that you’re organized, open to making new contacts and always ready to talk business. Be sure to keep a stack on your desk at all times and have a few tucked away in your wallet to hand out during both formal and informal networking encounters.
Don’t Discount Anyone
Regardless of what type of business you own, it’s important to focus on building a diversified, broad-ranging network of professional relationships.
According to Fast Company, “Network science shows that the quality and quality of your relationships predict how innovative you’ll be…”
Networking with people from different backgrounds and industries helps to broaden your horizons both personally and professionally, giving you access to a diverse set of ideas, perspectives and resources that can help you both relate to your customers and provide unique opportunities for your enterprise.
Identify Your Networking Barriers
If you’re one of those business owners who are shy, introverted, or simply dislikes networking, take the time to learn skills and techniques to improve your comfort level at networking events. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable walking into a room filled with perfect strangers? If so, consider taking along a colleague to your next networking session.
Sales expert Belinda Ellsworth suggests standing next to the bar, food or refreshment table during events – that way, you’ll be exposed to lots of attendees without ever needing to ‘work the room’. You could also introduce yourself to the organizer, and ask them to introduce you to others who share similar interests, saving you the awkwardness that can come with approaching someone without an introduction.
By focusing on your business networking skills, you’ll enjoy a broader range of professional contacts, increased inbound business, and a boost to your entrepreneurial spirit.