photo c/o themuse.com
“To be successful, you have to be able to relate to people; they have to be satisfied with your personality to be able to do business with you and to build a relationship with mutual trust.”
– George Ross
See more quotes on networking:
Personal and Professional Growth Through Business Networking
Are you relying solely on your online content marketing and advertising as your primary methods of brand development and growth? Your results are less than promising and well below your expectations right? In this article, I’ll share why business networking has become an essential part of developing your startup business and building that business into a consistently growing and sustained entity in the marketplace today.
Two of the most common approaches to professional business networking today involve face to face networking events or online networking through a variety of websites structured for connecting online with industry professionals. What’s the bottom line?
“Networking is about making good connections and building
new relationships with other business people.”
Professional networking is nothing new in the business world. In fact, networking right from the onset has been an essential part of reaching out to those individuals or groups of people who share the same business interests and overall objectives. Your primary objective during the networking process is to introduce yourself to business owners and managers, demonstrate to them that you have the best solutions for their needs and impress upon them that YOU and your solutions are unique in a way that will bring to them the greatest benefit over your competition offering similar products or services.
Networking is perhaps the most important aspect of brand introduction and recognition in your marketing arsenal. Often times you will connect faster and more effectively when conversing one on one or as a group presentation at a professional networking event. There is nothing more powerful or impressionable than meeting people in person. The challenge, of course, is the much lesser scale than you would realize through paid advertising where your targeted audience reach can be exponentially greater.
Not everyone is comfortable with the networking environment, especially the first few times attending such functions. It takes some advance preparation before the event to essentially rehearse or practice the networking process as you anticipate the event rolling out over the course of the evening.
Focus on relaxing. Be aware that every single business person attending the event, regardless of their level of professional confidence in their office environment and/or the successes they may have achieved will have arrived for the event with a level of their own nervousness or apprehension. Relax! You’re not alone. Have some fun with it! Networking events are not structured as hard-driving, pressure infused tinder box sessions of handshakes and chest pumping. You’re not going in there to stand off against heavy hitters in the industry who are your direct competition.
What you will find on arrival are a large group of individuals standing around, sipping on coffee, tea, perhaps a wine and most of them will have an expression of bewilderment or apprehension. They know the basic routine for such events but they are awkwardly glancing around to see who will make the first move. To stand back and observe can often be a humorous way to see where guests are at as the event gets under way.
Whether an industry event hosted by community organizers of such business venues or your local Chamber of Commerce there is usually a half-hour to an hour at the opening for relaxing one-on- one or small group greetings and conversation. Keep it light! Handshakes and a confident smile are a great way to reduce initial tensions and you will find that people relax in turn and conversation will flow freely as attendees start to feel and embrace the friendly, cordial atmosphere.
Networking must always be focused on the best interests of your prospective client or customer and NEVER all about you and your sales pitch!
If you walk in the door of a business networking event and holler out loud that you have arrived and fashion yourself THE topic of discussion and focus for the evening, you are in for rejection. Don’t ever work the crowd with the ‘buy me, buy me, buy me’ attitude. Every business person in the room is there for the same purpose so relax and allow the event to unfold as it will.
Remember that often times, being the first one to extend your hand to greet others leaves a positive and memorable impression. Don’t hang back shyly awaiting others to initiate conversation.
During your advance preparation for the event, jot down notes of the key points about your business that you would like to introduce or focus on. Plan what you will wear, your posture, your polished shoes, your hair grooming, your smile, and your friendly tone of conversation. If the opportunity does not present itself the first event you attend, don’t panic as there are usually regular monthly events and sometimes even more frequently. Chamber of Commerce events often reserve half of every event for meet and greet networking and the last portion of the event to include a guest speaker and final comments from your host about upcoming special events, organization announcements etc.
More Tips for Your Networking Event
- Arrive at the Event Prepared with a Goal: Prepare in advance of arrival to the networking event by ensuring that you have established goals for the event. Going ‘empty-handed’ without a plan will ultimately cause you to go off track and waiver with signs of confusion or lack of confidence. Always have a Plan B in mind in case circumstances change. Decide ahead of time how many people you want to meet or perhaps a target of one new job or project. Go with purpose and demonstrate your focus and professionalism.
- Wear Suitable Attire: You are going to a professional or business networking event. Don’t arrive with a tattered pair of cut-off shorts or blue jeans and a T-shirt. First impressions (and ongoing impressions too) are critical. Look the professional that you are. Be calm, cool and collected but not too casual in appearance. Your posture during the event is important too. Don’t slouch. Stand tall and look ready for business!
- Business Cards: Take a good supply of business cards; ready for handout to those you feel will continue to be a contact. Those business cards do not come cheap so don’t toss them out to everyone who nods and says hello. Doing so can look desperate. Keep the business cards in the same place for each event; know which pocket they are in so that you don’t fumble around trying to find them…all impressions!
- Your Introduction: Plan for a professional greeting that identifies your name and your business name along with a brief but confident handshake. Focus on the other person’s introduction as well and try to remember at least their first name and nature of their business for the next event. Do not try to overload your new acquaintances with exhaustive information about yourself and your business. Stick to the primary information and pass the conversation over to the others.
- Start by Listening, Then Speak: Don’t be in a mad panic to speak first. By allowing the other person(s) to speak you gain valuable time to gain composure, listen carefully and relax for your turn to speak. People tend to be predisposed about their own interests and concerns so it tends to follow that the first person to speak will not have a fully attentive audience.
- Be Sincere and Show Interest: People see through insincerity in a heartbeat. If you stand in front of them nodding and smiling continuously but your mind is on your own agenda, just wait until they stop talking and ask you a question; then you are left with the embarrassment of having not listened to a word they have said. That is extremely deflating in a networking conversation scenario. Your turn will come. Stay focused, hear what the other person is sharing with you and ask them relevant questions of genuine interest.
- Be on Point: When speaking, avoid rambling on and on. Stay on point with clear and concise statements and pause for the person listening to absorb what you have said. Sum up what you do in two or three sentences…no more. People especially new to the networking environment will quickly feel overwhelmed if you relay to them the equivalent of a four-hundred-page novel manuscript. Be brief and to the point.
- Note Taking: You can experience that information overload as well so take a notepad. Jot down important essentials in point form about anyone you meet who is of interest for future conversations. Those key points will cue you later on about further discussion, a follow-up phone call or email or plan a coffee out together to explore further.
- Post-Event Follow-up: Within two or three days of the networking event, send those follow-up emails or make those calls and share that you would be pleased to continue to stay in touch. Compliment your previous or initial meeting with them and demonstrate your attentive recall by mentioning something you talked about that really interested you or made you curious to hear more.
- Online Connection Invitations: Don’t send your new contacts a generic invitation to connect i.e. on LinkedIn or the social media platforms. Send them an email to keep it personalized. Let them know that you enjoyed your time with them at the networking event and would love to connect with them on the professional/social network platforms. When communicating online with them remember to always use their name when messaging, at least once if not more often. Make that critical, impressionable connection and develop a trusting, friendly relationship through value-added, genuine interest in the other person and they will most often pay it forward.
- Remember: Stop the hard line sales pitch of ‘buy me, buy me’ and shift your focus to the person(s) of interest, their needs and how you can help them with a solution or refer them to someone who can; the payback will be exponential in return.
So much of the foregoing is merely common sense but all important points to focus on when networking. Once you have the process down to a routine it is much easier to relax and enjoy meeting new friends and potential clients or new business associations. Even in the absence of direct business, any one of those individuals could turn out to be a huge resource to you in terms of ongoing referrals, an influencer and beyond!
Your best possible approach to networking is to avoid dominating the conversation. Show interest in the other business persons you meet. Get to know them first, on a personal level, before jumping into the business conversation. Never favor conversation with males over females or vice versa. Professional respect is imperative.
Listen carefully to a conversation and absorb what these individuals are about in their personal and professional lives. That is how friendships and trust develop towards potential business associations and engagement. The same approach needs to be woven into marketing content today. It is all about trust building rather than the ‘buy me’ sales pitch that was prevalent for decades past.
The other side of the professional networking process is your online connection development. There are more and more professional business networking websites being introduced online. Developing a consistent process for your online networking activities is just as important as in-person networking.
Be consistent with your networking activity in either case. Be aware of the various social media platforms that you are on and the premise of their intended use. When on a site like Facebook, it is still principally a social platform. Set up a business, fan or author page separate from your personal page and keep the business separate. For those who are there strictly for social interaction, many resent the presence of business activity in the mix. You will find yourself an outcast in the social community rather quickly and in the process do your business more harm than good. Respect where the line is drawn.
LinkedIn continues to lead the pack in terms of professional networking websites. Its growth has been tremendous since its launch in May 2003. LinkedIn was developed as a professional networking site for business entrepreneurs, owners and new business start-up proprietors to connect with each other and explore business opportunities, hiring opportunities and new business associations. There has been an influx of individuals attempting to use LinkedIn for social purposes and that has caused contention among members. Best practice is to respect that professional business focus and save social interaction and engagement for the social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and similar sites. Even in the social media platforms, as with Facebook, a business or professional element has been introduced to those sites but their primary focus remains one of a social nature.
Professional Networking Websites
As mentioned, LinkedIn is still the frontrunner among professional networking sites but there are quite a number of more recent newcomers that you may wish to check out:
- LinkedIn: The world’s largest professional network with more than 500 million users in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide. Their mission: to connect business professionals around the globe for economic prosperity through professional growth and new associations.
- Alignable : A professional networking and referral site, their focus is primarily on small business and start-ups. The site has developed a system of helping new and small businesses to find, discover and interact with other small businesses including their local business community. In Alignable’s own words, the site is seeking to “reinvent the small business economy”. Small business has long been the backbone of towns, cities, and regions across nations. I have recently become involved in this site, well worth a look.
- AngelList: This is the Canadian site for AngelList. The focus here is on investment in support of new business start-ups. There is also a professional networking element developing between business owners on this site. Jobs and projects are listed for these new start-ups as well.
- Black Business Women Online: A blog and online community for black women who are entrepreneurs and professionals.
- neext: This site has transitioned from the former Beyond.com and is now job searching and job alerts including employer hiring ads listings.
- Meetup: This is a networking site for professionals to help them find like-minded groups and ‘meetup’ opportunities locally for a wide range of interests.
Benefits of Networking
The whole premise of a small business is networking, developing relationships and taking action on newly established connections and resources that help to establish and sustain a new business. There is a time dedication and a considerable amount of personal initiative required to establish a new business and keep it growing.
The new business owner of today needs to develop a network of friends and business associates. This network provides invaluable resources to draw information from, influence and the inspiration to persist with a business when the going gets tough. Associated with those who have a similar vision and ambition will inevitably stimulate positive forward movement in your business.
Additional key benefits of networking include:
Shared Knowledge and Resources
Networking is an empowering way to obtain input from area businesses, share business perspective, increase knowledge and more. In a group scenario, other business entrepreneurs have already been where you are in the startup process and will afford you the opportunity to learn how to avoid typical mistakes of trial and error in the operation of your business.
Exposure starts with direct interaction but will also expand to other business connections in the community as well. New business opportunities will develop through the networking and referrals process. Sharing details about businesses in your own network strengthen your new network relationships.
It takes discipline to stay on track with consistent networking. You need to push yourself to keep making new contacts and the more routine your network conversations become, the greater your confidence level will be. Business development depends on talking to people and continuously making those new connections.
Elevate Your Profile
The more visible you and your business are, on and offline, the greater benefit you will gain for the growth of your business. Attend regular business networking events, community social events, any public activity where you can share your business identity, especially where there is an interest of a relevant nature. The more opportunity to share your knowledge, experience and expertise, the greater the benefits to your business you will realize. Establish yourself as the go-to authority and watch your business grow!
Another benefit is increased lead generation. The greater the community awareness of your business, the greater the trust and recognition and the greater opportunities for referrals will be.