"the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business"
Contrary to popular belief, networking is neither a chore nor a contagious disease. And yet, the very thought of networking sparks fear in the hearts of many. In its simplest terms, networking is a gathering of like-minded people who exchange information, share ideas and help promote each other’s interests. Networking is a popular activity for small business owners, entrepreneurs, freelancers, consultants and sales people.
It sounds helpful and fun, so why are some people so resistant at first? Networking means doing risky things like meeting new people and putting yourself out there. Even if you’re not an introvert, mingling in a room full of strangers might be a scary proposition and not everyone relishes the thought of talking about themselves in front of others.
When you network, you make a conscious effort to meet other people, learn what they do, and look for ways to help each other professionally.
The Pros and Cons of Networking
Pros of Networking
Cons of Networking
Practice Sales Pitch
Give and Get Referrals
Not Knowing What to Say
Build Your SOI (Sphere of Influence)
Don't Know Where to Start
What Is Your Networking Experience?
How to Find Networking Groups
Intimate groups that are smaller and more focused like Master Mind Groups and BNI (referral) groups can be found locally by knowing the right people, being invited, starting your own or searching on the internet.
Casual and more broad networking groups can usually also be found online or through your community. Join your local chamber of commerce to make lots of networking connections and have the opportunity to improve your neighborhood.
A great deal of networking can be done with community service groups and volunteer organizations; this lets you do good work while strengthening your brand and meeting new important contacts.
You can find specialty or niche networking groups easily online as well. There are networking groups geared just for women, for minorities, or for people of a specific industry or trade.
To easily find and track local networking groups that are most likely to have members who are beneficial to you, check out Meetup.com. Meet.com is a great meeting organization website where you can search for what interests you and go to events and meetings to network with people.
Networking Survival Tips
- Know your goals. You should have a good idea of what you want to get out of networking (contacts, leads, referral sources, etc.) and develop a goal for each networking event. For example: "At today's event my goal is to collect the contact information of 5 new people who could become referral sources for me in the future."
- Dress for the occasion. You will be meeting many new people, including possible future clients, so dress to impress! You can wear formal business attire for most networking events, or a nice business/casual dress for after hours events or happy hours.
- Bring plenty of business cards! Bring more than you think you will need, seriously!
- Make a good introduction! When you meet a new contact don't forget to smile and make eye contact. Give your first and last name and shake hands. Listen to the other person's name and try to let them talk first by asking them what they do.
- Give your best "elevator pitch." In two to three sentences you want to describe what you do and who your ideal clients are. This short but powerful introduction is often called an "elevator pitch."
- While talking to a new or existing contact make sure to use their name once or twice during the conversation. This helps build relationships because people like to hear their own names and it lets them know you are engaged and interested.
Collect As Many New Contacts As You Can!
Following Up After Networking Events
You can go to several events per month and give out hundreds of business cards, but if you aren't following up with your new contacts then you’re wasting your time. The keys to successful networking areimmediate follow up and ongoing nurturing of the relationship.
Right after the networking event takes place, drop your new contacts a note (hand written is always nice and since it’s more unusual these days it will not be forgotten) but an e-mail also works. Let them know that it was nice to meet them and repeat any promises you made to them when you met. For example you might have promised to meet up with them for coffee or to send them a referral. Always do what you’ve promised, the sooner the better.
You can then place a reminder on your calendar to call this contact every 60-90 days to catch up.
Additional ways to stay in touch:
- Invite them to join your mailing list
- Connect with them on social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter
- Send them leads and referrals as they come up, and perhaps they will do the same for you
Networking Can Be Fun!
- Keep in touch on a more causal level with your networking connections by linking to them in social media.
- It doesn't have to be ALL business, invite someone to coffee or happy hour to trade industry ideas and have fun!
- Start a referral club with a few connections that have related businesses to yours.
Good Networking Karma
In networking, you get what you give. If you tackle networking with the mindset that you will make great connections who you can help promote; then people will in turn start sending business your way. Whatever your goals might be for networking, assume the people you meet have similar goals. Help them out and become a trusted member of their circle in order to win their business or referrals.
If you think you will be able to help promote their business and send them some referrals, let them know and ask for a few extra business cards. After you send them new business, always follow up to see how it went.
Many networkers have a goal of increasing their network and sphere of influence size. You can help your new contacts by introducing them to other people in the business community that could possibly help them.
You can keep in contact by sending them the occasional reference article or inviting them to relevant events. This is a non-intrusive way to staying top-of-mind.
If a network connection sends you a referral, make sure to follow up and send a hand written thank you card. If the business referral leads to a closed deal for you then consider sending a small gift like a coffee gift card!
If you use the goods or services of any networking partner you can help their business grow by offering positive reviews and testimonials. These are just a few of the many ways you can build profitable, long lasting, business relationships through networking.