When my mentor announced she was creating a new program centered around networking for women I cringed. The reaction was followed with an immediate knowing that this was exactly where I needed to be. In that 4-week intensive, I created great connections and learned a lot more about myself and my business. I went in with a great sense of trepidation and came out with a new perspective.
Whether you’re an introvert (like me) or an extrovert (like most of my friends), love big groups or have no idea how to even make small talk, networking know-how is very important for your business success. There is a notion in business that all things being equal, people will do business with and refer business to those they know, like and trust. There are also times when, even if one product is superior, people will go with what they know (think Coke vs. Pepsi — from either side). The key to it all is being able to develop meaningful, connected relationships.
Think of networking as the cultivation of mutually beneficial, win-win relationships. In order to be win-win, there must be GIVE and take (notice the emphasis on giving). Networking shouldn’t be viewed simply as events and groups where you go to sell your business. When you network effectively, everyone involved actively shares ideas, information, and resources, and business flows naturally.
Ok, so you know that you should be networking since it is one of the most cost-effective lead generation activities when used wisely, appropriately and professionally. But, maybe that seems easier said than done. Here’s a six-step plan to make networking for your business a little easier.
1. Check out several groups to find the best chemistry and your perceived value. In person, most groups will allow you to come and visit at least a couple of times before you have to join. Go and ask around to find out why others have joined and what value they get out of belonging.
Resist the urge to join a group (online or off) simply because your friends are there or someone tells you it would be a perfect fit for you. If that’s not where your target group of customers or connections can be found, then you’ll just be wasting time (and money).
I’m not telling you not to join the Chamber or that fabulous Facebook Group. Just be clear about what you’d like to get out of these or any other group and what you can honestly contribute. Whether it’s for business or personal, you need to be networking where those resources can be found.
2. When you find a group or two that fit, join and go to all the meetings you can. Don’t just drop in once or twice expecting things to happen and then quit if they don’t. Building mutually beneficial, win-win relationships will take some time.
The contacts you make need to constantly see your face and hear your message. Continual contact with others over time will open up opportunities for you to go deeper and learn more about each other’s thoughts, ideas, and capabilities in regards to your respective businesses. Know, like, and trust only happens over time. Being regular and persistent will pay off. This has been key in my offline networking endeavors and has even helped steer the course of my business.
3. Get involved – be visible. Do as much as you can to make yourself more visible within the organization. In the 4-week intensive networking group, I was given the opportunity to speak on live video, something I don’t generally do. However, being able to share some useful information and give on-the-spot tips, allowed people to understand where I could help them in their business.
So, being visible will help you with two things. First, you’ll get more opportunities to establish connections and get to know some of the contacts you’ve made even better. Secondly, the higher the visibility you have in the group, the less you’ll have to work to make new connections. Instead, as new people come into the group, they will likely seek you out because you are viewed as a leader.
4. Work at GIVING referrals and sharing valuable information. That’s right, you need to be willing to GIVE before you get. That means you need to get to know other members and what makes a good prospect for them. What kinds of information might you have access to that could be useful to them?
You may initially think you don’t have much of value to share with others (besides your business and what you provide). Part of getting good at giving is to not make assumptions. For example, don’t assume that some basic resource (e.g., a web site) that you’re aware of is familiar to someone you might be talking to just because they are the expert in that field. Be willing to ask if they know about the resource and ready to share if they don’t. And just like you ask that question, ask them about their ideal client. It will help you pick them out of a lineup of potentials referrals.
Just the fact that you are willing to explore giving will elevate your know, like, and trust factor.
5. Focus on Quality, not Quantity. It’s not necessarily about the number of connections you make, but about the quality of the ones you do make. Are they mutually beneficial, win-win relationships? Out of the almost 70 women in the “room”, I made genuine connections with about 10, startup connections with another 10, and some I just couldn’t seem to connect with at all.
Quality connections will be identifiable because all involved parties will be actively sharing ideas, information, and resources. Yes, it is true that you need to spend some time and effort getting to know the other person and what’s important to them. But, you also need to be clear and actively thinking about what information or resources you want and need.
Staying in touch with and following up with a smaller number of quality relationships will generally be much more productive than trying to follow up with a larger number of superficial contacts.
6. Be persistent, but be patient. The goal of a networking event shouldn’t necessarily be to come away with prospects every time you go out but to come away with great connections. Networking usually takes time to get the relationships developed and nurtured.
Don’t approach networking as a scary proposition or a necessary evil for being in business. Take the pressure off yourself and really focus on how you might be able to connect with someone you meet. Focus on the other person first and look for ways to be useful to them. As you become known as a connector you’ll eventually reap what you’ve sown.