The richest people in the world look for and build networks. Everyone else looks for work.
Business is slower than it should be and you want a quick fix. The answer, of course, is to get into networking.
However, pause a moment before you dive knee deep in. There’s a lot more to networking than you might think.
For many, the approach is to find every event that is on and attend them (albeit online during Covid and lockdown). That is the general approach adopted by most of us. Guess what? It doesn’t work.
Networking is nothing about attending events, and even less about papering the High Street with our business cards and associated collateral (when we can meet in-person again).
Networking is all about building better business relationships
As with any relationship, networking takes time, effort and focus.
You need to ensure that you are attending the right meetings, and connecting with the right people.
The florist may be fortunate enough to meet just the right accountants, solicitors and finance brokers. All great customers, but their time will be better spent if the focus is on meeting and connecting with wedding planners, wedding stationers, photographers and hotel management. These professionals will have multiple and on-going streams of referrals.
Before you even set out for an event, know the following:
- Why you are attending
- Who you are intending to connect with
- How you can deliver value for these connections
Quality, not quantity, is the golden rule
Review your existing base for excellent referral sources, and know who is best for you and why. If you don’t know, ask.
You may just be fortunate enough to know the best accountant (a professional seriously underrated) who continuously passes referrals, though not an obvious link.
Think about three people or categories of business that you are going to focus on. And leave the social butterflies to collect the maximum number of cards possible.
Take the lead in making it a good event for someone else
The last person to speak to at a networking event is someone that you know already and have a relationship with.
Instead, find someone that you do not know and find a way to help them, whether it is an introduction to someone else or to your own business. The secret to good networking is to continuously lodge in the bank of goodwill, only making withdrawals when it is absolutely necessary.
Know what it is that you want
The purpose of a network meeting is to meet new people and connect with existing contacts.
No other business should take place. Your primary function is to agree and arrange a subsequent meeting for an opportunity to present your business proposition. Organise the meeting and move on, but only after you have left your new prospect safe with another networker who can bring value to them.
Equally, there is no point in being foolish. If someone is offering you an opportunity at the meeting, take it.
Make a note (literally) of the people that you have met and send them a message or connect with them after the meeting. Take and retain the initiative. If you have properly prepared your new contact, they will be expecting the contact and glad of the opportunity to learn more about you which may lead to doing business with you.
Make networking a habit
Like anything worth achieving in life, success comes from good habits.
Define how much time and energy you are prepared to invest in networking and get to it. If it is working well for you, continue. If not, change your bad habit.
If you are attached to a particular network, take the opportunity to get involved in the running or operation of it, particularly in an area where you have skills or abilities or need to develop them.
Enjoy yourself and have fun
Most business networking meetings are hard work. Many of the people attending look like they arrived there under duress.
Resolve to be the person that enjoys the meeting through being committed, enthusiastic and happy to be there.
Otherwise, find a different meeting. If you are enjoying yourself, you are more interesting to be with and more likely to do business with people that you connect with.
Professional business networking is the single most effective way to build deep and meaningful business relationships that will go on to give you referrals for your business for ever and ever. If you haven’t already started, plan it and get into the action. Don’t wait for the phone to ring; get out and make it happen.
I frequently advise my clients on how to contribute and extract the maximum value from their networking endeavours as part of my professional development coaching practice. Please feel free to contact me if you’d like support in this area.