Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Networking: Just Do It!

Networking meetings don't have
to be formal.  Make 'em happen!
Networking – verb.  Any process by which you expand your network of business connections.  Conventions, industry happy hours, and professional organization meetings all can be networking activities.   Charity events like fun runs, community events like parades and festivals, LinkedIn, other social media, and attending events where your target market recreates are also networking opportunities.  Don't attend these events blindly!  Target the connections that will be the most useful to you, and cultivate them.

Cattle-call networking event.  Don't!
Recently some sales professionals have been actively preaching against networking. Bad networking is out there, and a total waste of time.  What is bad networking?  Collecting business cards and shaking hands is not networking.  Don’t bother.  Effective networking brings you prospective, customers, job offers, references, referrals, and a bigger paycheck. 

Good networking is establishing a real connection with another business professional.   Customers can be valuable network members, but the most valuable are frequently folks from outside your customer base.  Inside your industry there are key players, and you want to know them.  Make it a mix of the two.

Networks are a
two-way relationship
Why build a network?  There are many reasons.  Connections in vertical markets can help you learn more about your business, and stay on top of changes in the industry.  Keep track of the competition.  Connections can become advisors,  and mentors on tough days.  They pave the way for introductions to hard-to-reach professionals.  Objectivity and different professional circles make network members effective for each other.  These are people you will make part of your professional life.  You’ll maintain contact with them through occasional emails and phone calls, and build your relationship over time.  Their objectivity will help keep you grounded.  Their professional networks will be resources for you, and yours will be for them.  Remember it's a two-way street!   Be there for them.  You'll often need to prove your value before the relationship truly blossoms.

Network members are often the missing
piece of the puzzle!
When you reach out to a network prospect, you'll treat it like a sales call.  (Having a big network is nice, but having the right network makes you money.  Woo them a little!)  You'll talk about them.  You'll focus on their position in their market, and learn what their goals are.  Helping your network members achieve goals is key to a productive relationship.  You'll make an effort to share articles with them, and connect them to appropriate business people in your world.  Follow them on social media.  Recognize their accomplishments and milestones.  As you demonstrate a genuine interest, you'll be securing their loyalty and their interest in you.   

Cultivate strong relationships with professionals in other industries, too.  Outside your industry, there are movers, shakers, and influencers.  Adding them to your network will help you stay ahead of the curve on local and regional business news.  Beyond keeping you "in the know," there is always someone your clients are looking to meet.  Your network members make great referrals to clients who have needs your company can’t meet.  Based on your personal relationship, your client will receive great service from your network members.  If you supply the name of a terrific plumber, landscaper, and dry cleaner to a new home buyer, your value to that home buyer has just gone way up.  A strong network of competent professionals is helpful in every profession.  Think about the connections that will help your customers, and build them.

A strong professional network also will help you when you need a job.  If you’ve been sending them business, and taking good care of the business they send you, your network will be happy to share the job openings they know of.  They will look at you as a competent professional, and will recommend you as such. 

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