Networking is an important aspect of business, yet most business owners become wary of networking events and wonder if the time set aside to attend these functions is worth their effort. From my experience, a shift in how we look at networking is required in order to see a return on your investment by way of new business and increased professional contacts.
In order to reframe your experience with building your professional network, there are a few things to remember that will help keep your perspective:
Find your Fit: Whether you participate in Boards of Trade or groups based on your industry or the size of your business, be prepared to take some time to understand what networking avenue is best for you. Networking is not “one-size-fits-all”, and what works for a B2C company may not work for your B2B enterprise. Do your homework and find the right fit for your business goals.
Commit to it: Business owners are busy. If networking is a priority for you, you need to be prepared to invest the time to commit to your networking goals. Attending an event once every couple of months may not yield the results you are looking for because successful networking requires regular contact and attendance. Make a commitment that works with your schedule and understand that the process of networking will be slower if you have less time to devote to it.
Quality vs. Quantity: When you do attend a networking event that you think is a good fit for you, avoid the impulse to talk to every person in the room and collect as many business cards as you can. In an hour or two, you are only capable of making quality connections with a handful of people. Instead, ensure you spend your time making a deeper connection with a few people, asking questions and learning about their business. By focusing on conversations with just a few people, you are building a foundation from which you can uncover how you can each benefit from the other.
Helping vs. Selling: Remembering to focus on mutual benefits cannot be overstated when it comes to networking successfully for your business. You do not want to go into a networking event with the sole purpose of trying to sell your product or service. Instead, try to uncover how you can help the people you engage with. Once you have a built a relationship, it is much easier to bring business in because your contacts will be that much more willing to work with you as a person.
Don’t discount informal networking: Networking doesn’t only occur in a formal structured setting. As a business owner you meet people in social settings and using the “helping vs. selling” approach you can develop new contacts and opportunities.
What kind of networking works for your business? How important is networking to your business, and how do you plan on including it in your schedule? I look forward to your thought below.