Networking is one of the best ways to get new customers, and maintain relationships with existing customers. But you have to do it effectively.
Several years ago, “networking” was the hot buzzword. Everyone was talking about building their network, because this was the secret to becoming incredibly successful. Well, yes, networking is a great way to build a business, but not necessarily the way a lot of people went about it.
Going to every meeting you can find, and thrusting your business cards into the hands of every person you can corner isn’t networking. To do it right, you have to be with the right groups, and make connections with the right individuals. Networking doesn’t mean having fleeting contact with as many people as you can, it means building relationships with the right people.
Who should be in your network? Customers, potential customers, entrepreneurs in other fields who serve the same types of customers you do, people who can mentor you, people you can mentor, people with information you need, and maybe even your competitors.
Here are some ideas to keep in mind:
Choose a networking group based on the type of people you want to meet. Who are your best prospects—business owners, HR professionals, writers, nurses, lawyers? Participate in groups catering to them.
Don’t overlook your competition, but don’t expect to build your business there. Many of us join groups with others who do what we do. That’s great for getting information about the industry and making connections within it, but you probably won’t find customers there. Don’t focus all your attention on your industry group. (One way you can get business from an industry group is through alliances and collaborations.)
Choose a few groups and attend regularly, rather than attending one meeting each of dozens of groups. Just as with other marketing methods, people need to see you or hear of you several times before they feel comfortable enough to do business with you. Plus, most people won’t remember you all that well if they’ve only met you once. See the same people many times, and you will become familiar.
Look for relationships where you can contribute, as well as benefit. Networking is a two-way street. If you are doing all the receiving (or all the giving) it won’t last long.
Practice your 10-Second Brag. You need to be able to get your message across quickly and effectively, so know how to say what you do in a short, benefit-oriented statement.
Offer to speak to groups which include the people you want to reach. It’s a great way of making yourself visible and sticking in the minds of your prospects.
Take on responsibilities. Become an officer. Write a column for the newsletter. Join a committee. Truly become a part of the group.
And don’t just focus on formal networking groups. You can build connections any time you meet someone who is a good fit for your network. Next time you’re standing in line at the office supply store or post office, strike up a conversation. Pick up the phone and call someone you’ve only met once (or perhaps never met), someone you think you could help and could help you. Get to know people online through Twitter, Facebook and email—they can be important members of your network.
Your network can be a source of business, of friendship, of support, of information, of the things you need to build your business and lead a satisfying life. Something that important shouldn’t be done scattershot. Put thought and effort into surrounding yourself with the right people, and being an important part of their networks as well.