No business development plan would be complete without a networking strategy.
And no relationship management endeavor, either. Networking helps you position yourself, build your professional assets and propel your business forward. Your professional network can open doors for you that otherwise would remain closed.
The purpose of professional networking is to increase your visibility in your industry, gain information and establish personal connections that will develop into mutually beneficial relationships capable of advancing your business and your career.
Here are 11 networking tips you can use to expand your professional network.
11 WINNING NETWORKING STRATEGIES
1. Find the Right Spot
Where you network is as important as how you do it. It helps to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. Before you dive into networking, research and locate the type of people or groups that you would like to connect with and that would be most beneficial for your business, and put yourself among them.
2. Identify Your Core Contacts
Scan your personal and existing professional network to identify your core contacts—people you know personally and who would be willing and able to help you—and recruit them for your networking efforts.
3. Use the Net to Network
Social networks are powerful networking tools. You can reach millions of people via social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Use them wisely. Be visible. Let yourself and your business be known. Get to know others and their businesses. Make connections, stay in touch, start and join conversations. Keep in mind, however, that most people still prefer to meet in person, face-to-face, meaning that social networks are in addition to, and not a substitution for, the real thing.
4. Be Helpful
Consider what you can do for others, not only what others can do for you. By helping people in your network to be more successful, you are helping them to be in a better position to help you in the future. Share valuable information, useful ideas and your expertise. Put on your matchmaker hat and connect people who can benefit from each other (e.g., a buyer of a product with a seller of that product). As your network gets stronger, you, too, get stronger.
5. Leave Your Comfort Zone
Start local, but do not limit yourself to your own backyard. Go outside. Thousands of people flock to business conventions, trade shows and conferences itching to network, exchange information and find new business opportunities. They are looking for you as much as you are looking for them. Check out networking, personal and professional interests groups on meetup.com and other websites and publications. Join a sports league. Take a class. Attend workshops. Get out there.
6. Build a Good Reputation
Business people generally prefer to connect and establish business relationships with people they deem valuable. A reputation as someone who is honest, talented, helpful and reasonable makes you valuable. Share your positive character traits and accomplishments through social media, email, blogs and conversations—humbly.
7. Talk to Strangers
One of the most useful networking skills is the ability to approach and communicate with strangers. Think about it: everyone you know outside your immediate family started up as a stranger. Your communication skills will come in handy when approaching people you do not know, so make an effort to keep these skills well polished.
8. Face Rejection
It is a number game. You know that. To connect with some people, you need to meet many more. The more people you meet, the more you will be rejected. They will ignore your calls and emails, decline invitations, overlook you at events. There is no way you can connect and build relationships with all of them. The more you climb, the more you fall. Just keep getting up.
Unless you are very shy, you like to talk about yourself. So does everyone else. Listening is one of the most valuable, yet often neglected, networking skills. When you listen, you learn about others’ needs, wants, goals and accomplishments. You get information and knowledge—you gain power. By listening, you also make others feel important, and they like you for it. Unleash your curiosity. Ask open-ended questions. Become interested in what others are thinking and doing.
10. Keep Your Word
This is as critical for networking as it is for building and managing relationships. Deliver on your promises. Be consistent. Reply to emails and phone calls. Being reliable helps your reputation and pays off in the end.
11. Think Long-Term
Connections open doors, but relationships close deals. Networking is not just about exchanging business cards, shaking hands and connecting on Facebook. Networking works when it lasts, when it grows into mutually beneficial relationships. This process takes time, so be patient.
Technology may have changed the networking process, making certain aspects of it easier and quicker, but networking still requires intention, time, effort and commitment. Do not make the mistake of relying solely on your social network accounts to do the job for you. Liking and sharing posts does not make a relationship. You have to get out there and meet people face-to-face.
Follow the strategies listed above, and do your best to be friendly, curious, helpful and daring. Open yourself to the possibilities—you never know, right? The greater the risk, the greater the reward. If nothing else, you will make new friends, and you cannot put a price on that.