Networking is often seen as an imposition, a time-consuming task that takes us away from our ‘real work’. But while talking to people we don’t know can be challenging and intimidating, networking is crucial to developing and growing your business.
The success of your business depends on how well you can market it, to potential clients and potential partners, and networking is the single most powerful way to position yourself in front of the right people.
Forget the word networking. It’s really about building genuine relationships. And that’s not all. Here are some other reasons you should make time to connect.
Broaden Your Business Community
Networking introduces you to people who may become key contacts for developing your business. You never know who you’re going to meet and what opportunities will come your way.
Building connections in your community often leads to word-of-mouth marketing. If you make a good impression, you may get a referral or qualified lead. It can also open the door to highly influential people who you may not have otherwise met, like potential investors, collaborators and business partners.
Discover New Leads
Networking is a great way to acquire new business leads. It allows you to meet potential clients face-to-face and develop meaningful relationships with them.
It’s more than just exchanging business cards. Networking is about building connections over time, nurturing the relationship from contact to client to advocate. Focus on genuinely helping people and offering value, so you stand out as a strong contact in your industry.
Remember, it’s rare to get business after only one conversation. Follow up with an email or phone call the next day saying how much you enjoyed meeting your new contact and ask if you can help any further.
Build a Support Team
Networking allows you to connect with people in various stages of their business journey. By talking to these people, you can gain practical advice and expertise to use in your own business. Gain new insights by learning some of the challenges and common mistakes other people have experienced.
Businesses that support each other do better. Surround yourself with people who share the same drive and ambition, encouraging each other to move forward as a group.
Identify New Business Trends
Networking is a great way to exchange knowledge. It can help you identify industry best practices and benchmarks as well as keep you on the cutting-edge of technology and business trends.
Networking can also inspire new and creative ways of doing things. Talking with other business owners exposes you to fresh ideas and perspectives. Learn about products, tools, suppliers and strategies that others are using that could help solve a problem for your business. You may even discover inside information to gain an advantage over your competitors.
Raise Your Profile
Networking will increase your visibility and get you noticed by your local community. By regularly attending business and social events, you gain exposure and people will begin to recognise you. The more memorable you are, the more likely you are to get leads and referrals.
Make an effort to speak with different people at every event, offering information or tips if needed. This will build your reputation as knowledgeable, reliable and supportive and help raise the profile of your business. Being generous with your advice demonstrates your willingness to help others, a trait that will encourage people to re-approach you.
Increase Your Confidence
Networking can help you overcome shyness and give your confidence and self-esteem a boost.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone and practise making conversation. Remember, the way you interact with people can be done on your own terms, so play to your strengths. Many people find one-on-one interactions more manageable than a group situation.
Grow Your Digital Connections
An active presence on social networks can be just as important as attending face-to-face events. The people seeking information and advice online can also be your potential customers. Whether you blog or interact through platforms like Twitter and Facebook, make sure you provide valuable information. It’s important to respond to comments on a post you write in a timely manner.
Become a Better Networker With These Tips
- Start with your current contacts. Networking isn’t always about making new relationships. Connect with the contacts you already have and invest energy in those relationships first.
- Set your expectations. Before you attend an event, think about what you’d like to achieve. Do your research and go to the event prepared.
- Take the initiative. Everyone feels some apprehension about meeting new people. Be the first to walk up and introduce yourself.
- Demonstrate your value. Don’t talk about your role in industry speak. Explain it in a way that will spark curiosity, care and interest.
- Listen more than you talk. People love to talk about themselves and you can learn how you can help by doing most of the listening.
- Ask more deliberate questions. Go deeper than asking: ‘What do you do?’. Get to know somebody on a more personal level and find commonalities. These are the conversations people remember.
- Give first. When you offer your support without expecting something in return, you create a more genuine connection.
Professional networking doesn’t always come easy. Even people who are natural socialisers still need to work on their networking skills. There are networking opportunities everywhere you look, from professional business groups to volunteering as a member on a board. Even interactions in ordinary places, like the grocery store or a friend’s dinner party, can be a valuable networking moment.
Wherever you network, do your research to understand the opportunity it presents for you and your business. And then practise, practise, practise. You’ll be surprised how quickly your confidence grows.