What is networking?
Networking for business is a marketing strategy that is about making friends and forming strong relationships that will help you grow your business. It is said that it is not what you know in business, but who you know.
However, most people have no idea how to network successfully. They think that they are there just to hand out business cards, make a quick sale, and then move on to the next networking club or event to repeat the process.
Why do we network?
Business to business networking is about much more than that. It is about forming strong lifetime relationships and knowing people whom you can strategically use or place either in an advisory capacity, or who can help you find a product or put you in touch with someone who can help you with a product, service or project. So whenever you need help, advice, a product or service, you can call on your network and someone will be able to help you, or know someone else who will. This means that you are no longer alone in your small business, but have immediate access to someone in your network thanks to the relationships you have formed.
Networking is therefore a vital part of your business and a strategy that maximises your exposure and puts you on a platform similar to big business.
So, how do we network effectively?
Use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management System) and make categories for your contacts.
1. Your Database: Everyone that you have ever had contact with.
2. Your Network: People you know from college/university, old colleagues, professionals you know, other business contacts, and people you have met at networking events.
3. Your Inner Circle: About 20 – 50 people who know you well and whom you trust. These people can give you honest feedback and constructive critique when necessary without fear of offending you.
4. Your Board of Advisors: These are 5-7 individuals who are your closest advisors.
5. Family and Friends: The people who know you intimately.
There are 8 Steps to Effective Networking
1. Get your mind ready
If you approach networking with the right frame of mind; that you need to make friends and get to know them so you can be of value to each other. And that you go into networking events with the attitude of “what I can do to help you” it will pave the way for networking success.
2. Develop a Great 60 second “elevator speech”
This needs to grab the attention of the person you are talking to, and be memorable so they remember you. An example: Don’t say “I sell ladies underwear” but say: “I help women look slimmer and taller.” Every woman wants that.
3. Identify the market you want to reach
It is no good saying “everybody” because not everyone will be interested in your product or service. For example don’t say: “I am looking to speak to everyone who wants to retire wealthy” but say “I am looking for men in their forties who want to be wealthy and live the good life in the next ten years.”
4. Decide where to Network
As you can’t be everywhere, there will be times and places that will work better for you. Find networking groups that correspond with that.
5. Develop your strategy
If you are prepared beforehand there is nothing to fear. Write out and practice what you are going to say, and plan where and when to network, and what you want to accomplish. Also be clear on what you need so that your network can help you with that.
6. Remember to Ask Questions
People love talking about themselves. Ask the right questions, and get them to talk about themselves and their business. If you listen well, there may be an opportunity for you which you will miss if you are intent on speaking about yourself and your business instead.
7. Don’t Sell your product or service
Be clear on why you are there: You are not there to sell but to make friends and build strong relationships. If you insist on selling, you will just annoy others and they will avoid you.
This is the most overlooked part of networking. You need to follow up with the people you meet and see them one on one. Keep the business cards in a business card holder and add them to your database. Then phone them within 48 hours to make an appointment.
If you have seen them before, keep in touch with a card, a note an email or a phone call. Make sure they don’t forget you.
If you follow all these steps you will have greater success at networking. You will form great relationships with people who will purchase your product or service when they have need for it. Networking is a long term goal, not a short term fix. And above all, be relaxed, have fun and enjoy yourself.