As I have stated in my Entrepreneurial webinars, business networking is as important to the success of your business as career networking is to those who plan to succeed in their careers. In a time when the average job is lasting less than four years, there will be a lot of changes in who is a key player in the businesses who are potential clients for you, and who they have relationships with that could be of value to you.
One of the basic purposes of networking is expanding who knows you in order to connect to people in your new contacts’ circle of influence. In other words, tapping into the networks of others. This principle has been around for ages in the direct sales profession, and manifests itself each time a sales person asks for names of others who could use the service or product you have just purchased.
Networking is a tried and proven means for connecting with people to create opportunities. Throughout history people have relied on one another to better themselves in all aspects of life. From getting that first job and generating business opportunities, to receiving personal advice, the benefits of networking are limitless. By networking you will facilitate opportunities for others and help them achieve their goals, and in return, they will support you. The individual who holds the correct answers or knows the right people just might be one contact away from you.
When it comes to business networking, you never know whom those you already know have in their circle of influence. The more diverse your business network, the more likely you are to make overlapping linkages between groups of other business people. The more linkages you can make between groups of people, the stronger your business network will be. It takes time and energy, but it is an effort that will pay you back many times over.
Keep in mind that networking is about being genuine and authentic in your relationships, building trust and always keeping an eye out for a way to help others. Strive to become known as a powerful resource for others, so people remember to turn to you for suggestions, ideas, and names of other people. Be ready to state what you are looking for when someone asks, “How may I help you?” Knowing your objective, and how others can help you, makes the relationship reciprocal, and rewarding for both parties.
Knowing your purpose is important in business networking. In my entrepreneurial webinars I discuss a networking practice for new entries into small business to connect with those most tightly networked individuals in every community; commercial bankers, small business attorneys, accountants, commercial insurance agents and professional business to business sales persons. These individuals depend on continually expanding their circle of influence to grow their own effectiveness and business success.
How do you get started? Make a list of all these professionals in your market area, and begin scheduling meetings with each of these people to introduce yourself to them, to ask them to critique your Summary Business Plan, and to get their suggestions on who you should meet to get your business started off on the right foot. Then, meet with these referrals and get some more names. Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them. Respect and honor that and your referrals will grow.
You’ll be surprised how much excellent quality feedback you will get from each of these face-to-face meetings and inevitable call backs with invitations to attend a meeting with them. Over time you will get invitations to club meetings, Chamber of Commerce meetings, service club meetings, and other group meetings where you will have the opportunity to introduce yourself to a number of new acquaintances. Remember to get business cards and follow up in the next couple of days to schedule a face-to-face meeting to discuss your Summary Business Plan.
Using the Internet
Technology is revolutionizing the way business is being done, and business networking is no exception. If you own a home computer, have a telephone and access to the web, you can build a successful business eNetwork. The pool of resources available for that initial eNetworking connection has grown exponentially. Online business networking combines the old proven practices with technology to create a means for connections to happen that literally would not have been possible without online accessibility. Online business eNetworking transcends the normal issues of time, distance and space giving people access to wholly new possibilities.
The Internet is an excellent vehicle for networking via bulletin board and chat room communities. Many of these communities allow business professionals to connect on a regular basis, exchange information and ideas, and get to know one another a little better. In addition, staying in touch via the Internet has no equal. The web is a great tool for staying in touch with people with whom you’ve already established a connection.
However, it may not be the best tool for you to make those initial connections to prospects. Nothing beats good old-fashioned face-to-face networking to start the process of building a relationship of trust. Granted, you may do some business with people that you’ve met on the web, but, for the most part, people typically do “repeat” business with people they know and trust. Most repetitive referral relationships start through personal contact and then the ongoing connections that generate repeat business can occur via the web.
Surf the web to discover the businesses in your geographic location. Read the information posted on their website to discover their market segments, how they compete in the local market, and who the main contacts are in the company. Then, make it a point to meet a decision maker in each of those companies. And, don’t be concerned that these individuals are from an entirely different industry than you expect to be marketing to.
Just as in building your personal network, building your business network means striving to meet those who may have contacts that aren’t easily available to you. When it comes to networking, not having a lot in common with someone you would like to meet means that person may be able to connect you to a whole circle of business people that you might not otherwise have access to. The only thing these business contacts should have in common with you is that they, like you, should be really good at what they do. Create a strong business network with these principles in mind, and you’ll help your business grow quickly and become successful.
I agree nothing beats face to face networking. Online networking should be used as an additional networking tool. Business networking sites like Linkedin, Schmoozii, and Xing allow connections to be made. Once the connection has been made, set up a time to meet face to face if you are in the same region. Online business networking adds efficiency to the networking process.