Networking is essential to business no matter what others may say. It will help you more than hurt you. Networking is more than just exchanging business cards. There’s an art to it.
I am splitting up this topic into 2 posts – part 1 is about offline networking and part 2 is all about online networking. They have the same goal, but each is very different.
Personally, I love networking events. Of course, I love to talk too. I have found that having the opportunity to talk about your business and explain what you do to others is some of the best promotion your business can have. You can answer questions and even make a sale.
However, not everyone does networking right. We’ve all been to those Chamber of Commerce events where you will get approached by someone who immediately pushes a business card in your face and asks for you business. That’s not the way to do it. Networking is about communication. Networking is also about learning.
I am a member (and Past President) of our local chapter of BNI, Business Networking International. BNI is networking membership group. Only one person per professional is allowed to be in each chapter. We have a set 90 minute meeting every week and we network and pass referrals. Everyone has the opportunity each week to give a 60 commercial teaching moment about their business and shares who they are wanting to connect with – a person, business or a group. I can attribute 80% of my local clients from this one group. It has been worth it.
Why do I mention BNI? Because they do networking right. They’ve taught that there is an art to it. Here is what I have learned about it…
Communication is the key to just about everything. Businesses and personal relationships fail for lack of this. When networking, communication is essential because you want to present yourself professionally. You want to convey a message, both verbally and non-verbally. You want to appear as someone who you would want to do business with. Of course, you want to be confident when talking about your business and display your communication skills.
Listening is very important. There is a reason we have 2 ears and one mouth. Listening is more than just simply hearing what the other person is saying. Listening is giving them your (hopefully) undivided attention. Really paying attention to what they are saying. Repeat back something they’ve said. Ask relevant questions. When an attorney is telling you about a case they just had, don’t ask him if he noticed the billboard by the highway.
When networking, you are given the opportunity to educate the other person on what you do. I wouldn’t give them a whole presentation but you have the chance to tell them 2 or 3 sentences about what you do. This is your elevator speech, abbreviated. This is something you should always have planned out and memorized. For example when meeting someone and they ask what I do, I say, “I own a social media marketing company that helps small to medium-sized businesses and professionals brand themselves on the different social media platforms.” I know mine is one sentence, but I like to keep it short and sweet.
An important piece in networking is asking – ask for a business card, ask to do lunch, ask for a meeting. When networking, when you meet someone you would like to work with our connect with – ask. You never know where that business relationship could take you.
Building the relationship
When you network and meet people who could be great business partners and what I like to call, referral partners, you want to take the time to get to know them. Every person knows on average 100 people. Could one of those be a potential client for you? Yes, you can’t build a relationship in 5 minutes, but get a business card and meet for coffee or lunch. Networking can take place outside a business function. Networking is everywhere – the grocery store, the carpool line, at Starbucks. Building a relationship with another business person is a great way to gain the next thing…
Would you honestly refer someone you didn’t trust? Great networkers introduce and refer people they not only know, but trust. When you trust someone and refer them, you are putting yourself out there and vouching for that person. Same goes in a networking situation. Do you want to introduce someone you don’t trust to a friend or colleague?
Send a hand-written note or email. Show your professionalism by following up with the ones you have met.
I see networking as building relationships with people I could do business with or people I could one day call clients. Even if you have an online business, offline networking is important. It gives you the chance to branch your business out even more.
Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll blog about online networking. It’s a lot like offline networking, but there are a few tips and tricks to doing it right.
Share with me – do you network offline? If so, how and where?