Love it or hate it, savvy networking can be the key to growing your business in the long term. If you approach it in the right way, you’ll begin to build a bigger list of contacts and move a step closer to creating a useful pool of mutually beneficial relationships. So, how do you get it right?
Start by helping others
Forging business relationships isn’t any different from building personal ones. Be generous to others – offer help and support where you can, even if you’re not sure if there’s anything in it for you. It doesn’t have to be a big favour: recommending a service you value or passing on the details of a trusted supplier, for instance. If others in your network trust and respect you, you’ll receive recommendations in turn.
Size doesn’t matter (much)
It’s not always those with the biggest rolodex that get the best returns. Knowing the right people is more important than knowing all the people. So focus on building relationships with people who are the most relevant to your business. That said, don’t write contacts off just because there doesn’t appear to be an obvious connection. It’s good to know people who offer services like design, PR and marketing, and you also never know who will end up becoming a key decision maker in the future.
Follow up after meetings
Stay in touch with the people you connect with. Drop them an email, forward them an article or resources you think may be pertinent – or put them in touch with someone you know who may be interested in their proposition. If you’re likely to meet a lot of people, it’s worth jotting down a few notes on the back of your business card to remind you of their interests. Don’t steam in trying to make an appointment to sell them something, though, unless they’ve specifically requested it.
One of the best ways of maintaining a connection is via social media. Most businesses are more than happy to exchange ‘follows’ on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Virtual networking has taken over from real-world networking in some cases and it makes sense if your business is able to operate on a global basis. Try to keep track of your new contacts and catch up whenever you can.
Some do’s and don’ts
Make sure you take lots of business cards when you’re networking but don’t throw them around like confetti. It’s best to introduce yourself and have a brief conversation before asking for a business card and offering one in return. Listen to what others are saying, ditch the sales pitch and try to have a natural conversation. Smile as much as you can – everyone will be nervous, even if they network a lot. Don’t connect with one person for too long; exchange cards, tell them how much you’ve enjoyed meeting them and move on!