Networking is as vital to a business as breath is to life. But it is not just important to network, it is important to do the right things if your goal is networking for business success.
Smart start-up entrepreneurs know the importance of having a good business idea, a needed product or service and reliable staff. However, no matter how good your business setup is, your efforts will mean nothing if there is nobody to patronize your business.
Networking is the smart way to go if you wish to achieve success in your marketing campaigns. Smart entrepreneurs understand the principle of business networking and that is why they go all out to build strong networks which help their businesses grow in the long run.
But it is not enough to network, it is equally important to know how to go about it if your goal is to build a successful start-up.
Are you a CEO for a startup or an already existing business? Do you want to know how to build a solid business network to grow your business?
Below are seven strategies you can employ to make the most out of your networking exercise so as to achieve tremendous business success. The networking ideas below are coveted by successful business leaders and you are well on your way to achieving business networking success.
- Arrive on time
Always attempt to be one of the first people to arrive for any meeting that you are invited to. More so, if such meet-ups avail you the opportunity to meet potential clients and investors.
At this point, the atmosphere will be much calmer. It will be easier to find someone with whom you can strike up a conversation.
2. Make a first impression that’s yours, and do it confidently
A few months ago, I went for a symposium organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in my state of residence. I made sure that I arrived on time, relaxed and got acquainted to my environment.
I took note of the Commissioner of Youths and Sports, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Youth Development and all the Special Assistants and other dignitaries that came for the event. Immediately it got to the time for interactions and networking, I went for the kill.
While everyone was busy exchanging pleasantries with every other guest, I went straight to where the dignitaries were. I introduced myself to the Commissioner confidently and told and explained that I was a business consultant, a blogger and a writer.
The Commissioner was obviously impressed by my confidence. But it also happened that he needed a writer for one of the projects he was about to embark on. I would have lost out on such a tremendous networking opportunity if I was not confident enough to create a good impression on him.
Note also that although it is important to make a good first impression, you should never make the mistake of trying to make yourself seem more than you are.
There are a thousand and one tips from ‘networking experts’ telling you how to present yourself for maximum impact. Tips ranging from “the first things you should say or ask” to downright weird stuff like “have a good dentist!”, and then it just gets creepy from this point on.
The truth is if you focus on applying all these tips, you are doing exactly the same thing every other person is doing. You are just part of the statistic. People will not see you as someone who could possibly have a fresh perspective. If business success is your goal, then networking for you should go beyond the norm
In an interview with venture capitalist and entrepreneur, Rich Stromback, he says, “I’d almost rather make a bad first impression and let people discover me over time than go for an immediate positive response”
He further explains that if you try to look and sound the way experts suggest, you will “end up being completely forgettable”.
Yes, be bold and confident and also smile but let all you do be genuine. Because business people, especially veterans in the business world can spot a fake from a mile away.
So make a good impression, but make sure it is your impression.
3. Ditch the pitch, everyone is tired of hearing it
Unless you are in a gathering where you are expected to talk about your business, do not talk about your business.
When having a conversation with someone or a group of people, keep your contributions informal and interesting.
Do not try to sell them on anything.
Do not commandeer the conversation; talk and listen.
If someone in the group asks you any business related question. Maybe he/she wants to know what you do for a living. Give them a brief but detailed description of your company and maybe a few of your accomplishments.
Mentally prepare for this beforehand. Also, never lose your casual demeanor even though you are talking business.
4. If Business Success is your Goal, Make Building Relationships your Priority
When meeting new people as a business owner, you are unconsciously thinking of ways to connect them to your business. As true as this is you should never let it be obvious.
Talk with business prospects the same way you would talk to a friend. Develop a genuine interest in them, their challenges and interests. You might find out something about them that will come in handy if they decide to do business with you.
The secret here is to listen more than you talk. I know you want to tell everyone in the event about your business. Yes, you can’t wait to talk about all the wonderful services/products your start-up has to offer. But please take a chill pill. Talking incessantly about yourself and your business is the easiest way to bore off everyone.
Focus first on building relationships first during your networking activities. If you do,business success will follow inadvertently.
How do you do that
- Ask questions.
The easiest way to get people to bond with you is to ask them questions. And I don’t just mean general questions like “How is the weather?”.
Rather ask questions about your prospect and his/her business. Develop genuine interest in what they are talking about even if it seems it doesn’t apply to your business. Ask more questions from the answers you get, and keep the conversation running.
When you do this, you easily form relationships with the person in question. And it will be natural to introduce your business in your next meeting.
- Think of something valuable you can offer them
More of this will come in the sixth point. But when you are in a business networking environment, think of how you can be of benefit to the other person. Collect their phone numbers and email addresses and if you come across any information that could be valuable to them like a news item or a particular information online, send them the link.
Doing this puts you in their good books, and naturally, they would jump at any opportunity to pay back.
In conclusion, ensure that those in your network are your friends first before they are your clients/investors. Business networking is an art and smart entrepreneurs understand the part that friendship/good relationships play while networking for business success.
So, learn to be patient when dealing with prospects. Remember, good things come to those who wait.
5. Don’t let your network grow stale
One of the worst things you can do is cease communicating with people in your network. You have to device a way to be ever-present without being all up in their face.
Keep in touch with the people in your network. Schedule regular lunch dates with them. If the initial time does not work for them, reschedule or better still, let them choose a convenient time. This works for prospective clients and former clients.
As much as possible, keep in touch with old clients the same way you would your new clients. This is another way to get new referrals. Peter Economy calls it mining the past.
6. Be of value to them first
Networking is a two-way street. It is not all about you and your business. Your first instinct when you meet people should not be shaking hands, pitching and passing along business cards. Most cards distributed under such circumstances end up in the trash or never even leave the meeting place.
It is not an environmentally friendly behavior to waste paper.
The only person who benefits from this is your printer.
Instead, seek out ways to be of help to them first – in their business or in their lives – and ask for nothing in return. Give and they will naturally feel obligated to give back. At this point, you have created an opportunity to do business with them.
For instance, one of the people I respect a lot in the freelance writing world is Bamidele Onibalusi. I knew that creating a relationship with him would be of immense benefit to the freelance writing aspect of my business.
After that, I sent him a mail, and he responded. And before you could say Jack, our relationship had started and it grew to the point where I could ask him for little favors and he obliged.
But before I could get to that point, I had to think of what I could do for him first. And when I did, he responded positively.
So in your networking activities, be let the principle of give before receiving guide you.
- Learn from them
About sixteen years ago, my family decided to move to a new state. I had to go through the trouble of making new friends, which was not fun for me at the time.
I tried as much as possible to avoid everyone in school and it worked for the most part. However, one boy in particular held my interest. Soon we started talking and walking back from school together. In the years that followed, we had a lot of fun together, fought alongside and against each other but our friendship never waned. He taught me how to be brave and I taught him how to avoid trouble.
Friends tend to rub off on each other the more time they spend together. They are always on hand to teach each other valuable lessons – in words and/or deeds.
It is easier to learn from clients who were friends first. Learn from them by listening and asking relevant questions. Their experiences might teach you a thing or two.
What strategies do you use to make the most of networking in your business? To what extent has your business grown since you started implementing them? Is there any step here that you can imbibe? Kindly share your experiences in the comment section below, the MSC community will love to learn from you.