What is “networking?” The dictionary defines it as a chain of interconnections that cross at regular intervals. Translate this to business and networking is a form of business activity involving contacts and building relationships to help achieve business goals. Networking is simply word of mouth marketing. It is not prospecting, it is not recruiting and it is not selling.
EFFECTIVE NETWORKING CAN HELP:
- Build prospect and referral customer base
- Increase visibility of your company and establish company image
- Improve the perception of your company in the community
- Gain influence on laws and regulations that impact you or your clients
- Provide each member of your team an active role in your business
Those conscientious about networking, have three levels of networks. The first is a system of business suppliers and customers who are most likely to bring you new business. The second includes contacts who may benefit from your business at sometime in the future. This group includes trade associations, politicians, future suppliers and strategic partners. The third is more changeable, depending on special business interests. For instance, if you have a project in Japan, you might want to build relationships with those who have experience doing business in Japan. Once the project is over, this group drops out of your active network.
Networking takes time, patience and consistency. It’s a long-term process demanding many contacts over months or years to see results. That’s why it’s important to manage the time and financial resources you devote to networking. Too many people think networking is socializing or trading business cards. Don’t you have business cards from people you can’t remember, whom you met at places you can’t recall?
RULES OF NETWORKING
1.Give out your business card only when there is good reason:
- Your contact has a beneficial potential
- You have agreed to exchange information of some type
- An agreement has been made to set an appointment
Make sure when you take a card that you promptly make a note on it, reminding yourself of the location and reasons for the contact, including their satisfaction with current vendor services.
2. Use a 30 second commercial. This brief explanation of your business purpose introduces you and focuses on the results you provide your clients, not just features and benefits of your products or services. An office machine and copier company might say “I work with my customers to help them run their business effectively by providing state of the art office machines.” Be conversational, not formal. Create a script and practice.
3. Have a specific goal for each function. Think through the purpose of the function before you get there. If you belong to a group, your goal should always include giving and receiving leads.
4. Slow down to speed up. Act like a host not a guest at a networking event. Initiate contact, stand by the door – greet people as they come in or encourage introductions. Everyone is in a hurry for quick leads. When you meet someone at an event, let them do the talking; focus on finding out about them and their business. (Networking is not the time or place to get your own recognition needs met.) You can then assess the contact.
5. Always give referrals before trying to get referrals. Be different. People who go to organizations to get business generally don’t succeed in the long run. If you show you are willing and able to help others achieve their goals, they will return the favor. When you join an organization, work for them first; let them know what you can do before trying to promote your company. Take the time to discover and be discovered rather than trying to convince others of your value.
6. Talk to everyone within a three-foot radius. Then keep moving around so you aren’t talking to the same people the whole time. Good networking can even take place in an elevator.
7. Remember your clients. The most important place to network is with your clients, not just for more business but to protect yourself should your contact leave or reorganization occurs. You are not perfect and you will mess up and being part of a company culture allows you to take a hit and still keep the client.
8. Track your network activity. You need some way to determine both how well you or an employee does at networking and to assess the effectiveness of the networking activity.
9. Let people know they are part of their network. Networking is not your database. People in your network need to be cared for, nourished and require personal contact. To get the most out of your network be a giver, the rest will naturally happen.
Networking is so important that it should be part of every job description and evaluated as standard job performance. We highly recommend that networking become part of your strategic business plan, positioned to support your own mission. The long term benefits to entrepreneurs and companies can be huge.
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