Most business owners learn very early on that relationships are an important part of growing an organization and networking is an effective way to initiate new relationships. If you are among the countless entrepreneurs who have experienced the pain of attending networking events, collecting business cards, and feeling there was no benefit, you are not alone. Research has shown that most people are uncomfortable with networking. The good news is, with practice and a few adjustments in your approach, you may find that mixing gets easier and yields better results.
A Solid Strategy
Consistency matters. Make networking a regular part of your marketing mix and incorporate it into your calendar just as you would any other vital marketing activity. When and where to network will be based on your business goals. You should base your decision on what you are trying to accomplish, in what timeframe, and what types of relationships you will need in order to achieve your goals.
Generally, a good business network will include people in five basic categories:
1) Ideal Customers -
These are the people you are in business to serve. Get very clear on who they are, why they buy, how they make purchasing decisions, and where they gather in large numbers. If your customers tend to belong to trade and professional associations, participate in their events and consider serving on a committee. On a committee you can deliver significant value for members, showcase your expertise, increase visibility, gain credibility, and form profitable connections.
2) Referrers -
Referrers are people who can connect you with your ideal customers and help you generate new business. In many instances referrers are satisfied customers, supporters and colleagues who confidently recommend your goods and services. You may also find great value in sharing your story with friends and neighbors who do
do business with you. When they understand what you do and who you do it for, they are equipped to spot potential customers and send new prospects your way.
3) Strategic Partners -
These are small business peers who can help you get the job done either directly through joint ventures, or indirectly by sharing helpful experience, expertise, ideas and connections you need to grow.
4) Advisors -
Some advisors are the basic support people you need to keep business running smoothly--like your banker, attorney, accountant, or marketing consultant.
It is also important to have advisors who already have achieved what you are working to accomplish. They can serve as mentors and offer guidance that helps you avoid costly mistakes to advance more quickly. You may connect with potential mentors in a variety of professional settings, including the Clark County Small Business Opportunity Program. When seeking a mentor on your own, start by identifying the person you most want to immulate. A great way to connect with a potential mentor is through a “giving” approach. Demonstrate that you are authentically as concerned about her success as your own, and willing to add value to her efforts.
5) Professional and Business Development -
It is important to continuously improve technical skills, and industry trends to keep your business competitive. Professional and trade associations that focus on your industry can help you stay well informed, qualified, and credentialed in your area of expertise. Such organizations often serve as advocates to fight for public policies and laws that are conducive to growing your business.
A Generous Approach
Perhaps the most common networking mistake is for a business owner to walk into an event focused on self, expecting to make an immediate sale or to “get” something from other attendees. That approach tends to make a person look pushy or needy, which is never client-attractive. It is a sure way to turn off the people you most want to engage.
The best approach to networking is to be service-minded, always looking for ways to add value for the people you meet. That does not mean offering your services for free (unless a free trial is part of your business model). It means listening to what they have to say, understanding their challenges, and perhaps offering an idea or resource they may find helpful.
Be sure to offer appreciation when a new acquaintance offers helpful advice. Expressions of gratitude can go a long way to create good will.
Follow Up Right Away
It is best to reach out to that Purchasing agent or potential strategic partner you just met while your encounter is still fresh on their minds. Your immediate follow up can help you stand out from the countless vendors who either follow up late, or don’t follow up at all.
One way to follow up is to send an email that offers your new contact a relevant resource or helpful information. Such a small gesture can add immediate value for a prospect and help you move the relationship to the next step. After an event, Reconnect with contacts regularly, based on their areas of interest and the strength of the lead.
Break Out of Your Comfort Zone
The best time to form business relationships is
you truly need help. While you may be tempted to focus networking efforts on gatherings of your peers, or in familiar settings, it is important to get exposure to new people and ideas that can spark your creativity, your access to business resources, and help you get better results. Start now.