Business networking is a system or communications method of creating opportunities to share knowledge between professional people.
The dictionary defines networking as:
A supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.
Also the action of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.
But of course it is much more than that.
Business networking can be seen as a marketing tool or method to create new opportunities, share knowledge and find new ideas through contacts of like-minded business people. One can share information by utilising a business network of a group of business owners and/or employees with common interests and goals.
Business networking is a relatively low cost opportunity to develop contacts, based on referrals and introductions. This would be either face-to-face at meetings and gatherings, and can even be through other contact methods such as phone, email and, increasingly, social and business networking websites.
Business networking also offers a pathway to decision-makers which one might otherwise not be able to contact as it can be an opportunity to gain a personal introduction to that decision maker one has been trying to reach for some time.
Business networking, also called relationship marketing in some circles, expands your area of influence and possibilities of business opportunities.
Business networking is an important and very essential tool in a business person’s arsenal these days.
Business networking is about getting one self-known, getting ones values, integrity and passion known as well as developing ones skills and getting the right strategies in place to enhance ones business.
Business networking is an essential tool these days in the competitive market place.
There are a number of steps one can take for successful business networking.
Step One: What is the purpose?
Why do you want to network? For most businesses the purpose is always going to be driven by the business need to expand. This would include expanding the client base, increase brand awareness, expanding the target market and, ultimately, increasing company sales. The purpose or purposes should be very clearly defined .
Step Two: Have a clear goal or goals
The Goal is what you would like to achieve and so this, also, should be very clearly stated. You may have many goals when it comes to Business networking. To work out these goals you might need to identify the person and type of industry you wish to make contact with. What networks will you use, Business, Personal or both? What do you want to achieve from each contact and relationship you create? What sort of questions or network strategies should you employ to achieve your goals?
What is the overall goal you want to achieve? What you would like to achieve from each business network contact you make?
Step Three: Be prepared
When you meet people at social events and gatherings, it is a good idea to have a number of openings you can choose from to start a conversation with someone. It is not professional to fumble and have to be hesitant and not sure what to say. Usually three or four opening lines you can readily call upon is sufficient for most new contacts.
“What drew you here today?”
“What do you enjoy most about your profession?”
“What did you like about the presentation?”
“Your company sounds very interesting; perhaps you can tell me something about it?”
Are some examples. The more you have up your sleeve the wider range of contacts you will be able to approach.
If you come up with a situation and are not sure how to start you could start by asking questions about the person, company or why they are there. Most people love talking about themselves and this is usually a great conversation starter.
If you ask someone enough about themselves eventually they are going to start asking you about you. So then you need to have an agenda.
Step Four: Have an agenda
A good idea is to have two lists. A ‘get’ list and a ‘give’ list. The ‘get’ list is a list of who you want to meet. Who you want to do business with, seek work opportunities or business opportunities with or even just learn more about.
The ‘give’ list is more about what you can give to others in terms of expertise, information of value to others and so forth. If in doubt it is a good idea to start with the ‘give’ list. What can you give the person in front of you that they might find valuable?
Step Five: Active Listening
Once you’ve asked your opening question that is the key time to listen to the persons answer. Allow the speaker to elaborate without rushing to jump in. Make sure you understand what the person is saying. Asking for clarification if needed. Ask yourself, “What does this person need? What can I give to this person that would be of value to them?” and “Do I have any knowledge or contacts that can help them?” Avoid glancing around the room to see who else you can talk to, Keep your attention on the person in front of you. Let them know you are interested in them and what they have to say. Be genuine about it.
Step Six: Find some common ground or areas of agreement
Once you have heard from the person you should be able to find some common ground. Some areas of agreement that you can expand on. That is the area you would share your experiences and thoughts on. Let the conversation take you naturally to where you are both comfortable. Avoid over engineering a conversation. This is not making a sale according to a script. It is developing relationships that may one day result in a mutual benefit to both parties.
Step Seven: Do not be afraid to ask for help.
People love helping others. Do not be afraid to ask. Suggest mutual ways in which you can help each other. This is what networking is about. Remember the other person is there for exactly the same reason you are. To develop relationships that may contribute to the expansion of their business. At some point they will EXPECT you to ask for help just as they may do with you.
Step Eight: Following through
If you want to continuing the relationship you have been developing then a follow through will be in order. Suggesting a further meeting or, “I can send that material over to you if you like, what’s your email address?”. “Let’s set up a time we can go over this in more detail, perhaps over lunch?”
The other person may even make a suggestion for a follow through. This is a time when you can develop a relationship even more. Keep in mind that although there may not necessarily be any immediate advantage to you in doing this there can be long term advantages. Possibly some business further down the track. Your new relationship might suggest you to someone else who is interested in your services, This is all part of networking. Creating a network of relationships that are living and to which, not only can you get something out of, but that you can contribute to also and so build a solid relationship base.
In The Basics of Business Networking – Part Two we will talk about Social Networking Strategies and Maximising contacts.