Effective business networking is the linking together of individuals who, through relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another. If you don’t have anything in common with the person you are talking to you may know someone in your circle who does.
1. The best networking happens when you meet another entrepreneur and think is there anyone I know to whom I can introduce this person?. I think it’s the karma principal. Don’t have any preconceptions about trying to sell anything to this person but how you can help them using your connections. It will come back to you in spades. Keep in mind that networking is about being genuine and authentic, building trust and relationships, and seeing how you can help others.
2. Make sure you know your goals in terms of networking before going to a special group. Are you making contacts for you or someone else? Do you want to learn something about those businesses you’re meeting? Are you sourcing for products or services? The Vancouver Board of Trade is a great place to network but one must be aware the businesses are mature, large corporations generally. The Burnaby Board of Trade tends to be comprised of more community based businesses perhaps more sympathetic and more attuned to smaller business. Ask yourself what your goals are in participating in networking meetings so that you will pick groups that will help you get what you are looking for. Some meetings are based more on learning, making contacts, and/or volunteering rather than on strictly making business connections.
3. Visit a number of networking groups to see which ones spark your interest in terms of focus, interest, support, and relevance to what you are trying to accomplish. Is your industry represented already? Notice the tone and attitude of the group. Do the people sound supportive of one another? Does the leadership appear competent? Many groups will allow you to visit two times before joining. Meetup.com is a great place to find networking opportunities in your geographic area.
4. The best networking happens when you join a special interest group, association or group that you can volunteer in. By giving your expertise, offering a role in management or working to a common purpose you will gain more knowledge of the inner workings of the group, become more visible to others and may even be considered an expert in the field. I joined an import/export association, became a director and learned an awful lot about running a trading business. Because I’m a Director of the import/export association people consider me an expert but I have a lot to learn. This is also a great way to give back to groups that have helped you.
5. If you are at a networking event go with a buddy and utilize the ‘buddy system’ to ‘work the crowd’. What I mean is you may meet 17 people in the course of a successful 2 hour networking meeting. Unfortunately not all people are interesting, relevant to neither your business nor others you may know and they may be terrible networking out of place in this environment. This is when your prearranged signal reminds your buddy to come and rescue you. I once met a nuclear physicist and couldn’t understand anything he talked about even though I have an interest in quantum mechanics. My signal to my ear a couple of times brought over my buddy who wanted to introduce me to someone he had just met. He saved me from what surely would have been interminable boredom. Depending on your focus maybe just the act of meeting new people is worth the effort to attend the meeting.
6. The more visible you become in your volunteer positions, social networking sites the more people will see you as the expert in your field and will come to you for advice. Become known as a powerful resource for others. When you are known as a strong resource, people remember to turn to you for suggestions, ideas, names of other people, etc. This keeps you visible to them.
7. You must identify your own Unique Selling Proposition. What I mean is – what differentiates you from others in your industry and why would someone use you and your services over others? In order to get referrals at a networking event, you must first have a clear understanding of what you do that you can easily articulate to others.
8. Listen! Be aware of what you are looking for and how others can help you in your business. Listen for the opportunity to make yourself a hero to a colleague or friend who owns a business and to the person you are meeting. I’ve made relationships with undying gratitude because I have hooked up people who made business dealings that would never have met otherwise.
9. As soon as you get home or to your office, jot little notes on the back of the business cards you have collected and arrange them in piles of how you will deal with them. Will you refer other people to these business people, will you call them yourself for business or will you file them under- please don’t let me meet these people again. I remember getting a friendly email at my office dated an hour after the networking meeting thanking me and promising to follow-up on a deal. I always go out of my way for those types of networkers. They understand the value of relationships. 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.
10. I’ll say this again. The best networking results from you thinking about the person in front of you and how you can help them and someone in your network as well. Karma will come back to you.