By Carolyn Landesman
Networking is the art of making personal connections and is a vital component of your overarching marketing strategy. Effective networking gives you the ability to achieve more than just about any other promotional or marketing activity you choose to engage in. Why? Because people buy from people, not companies.
Developing mutually beneficial relationships and making lasting impressions with others is a life skill which has many applications for you on both a personal and professional level.
Networking is about giving and receiving.
1. Making meaningful connections
It’s not what you know but who you know and who wants to know you.
To have a successful business, you also require a source of relevant connections to call on whenever you need them. Talking to people, developing rapport, making connections and developing relationships grows your circle of influence exponentially.
Networking is about giving and not expecting anything in return. Called the law of reciprocity, your generosity will come back to you in spades.
“Blessed are those who can give without remembering, and take without forgetting.” Anon
Networking is also a great way to tap into the advice and the expertise of others you wouldn’t ordinarily have access to. If you choose the events you attend carefully, you will mix with like-minded business people and industry experts. Attending these events gives you the opportunity to talk to them about a range of topics that you are interested in.
A major advantage of building a strong network is that you are not just getting exposure to the people you meet, you also get to tap into their extended networks as well. If you make a good impression, you will likely get referral business. Equally, if someone in your network matches an opportunity, don’t hesitate to share their details. It not only strengthens your network; it also strengthens your relationships with others where you become a valuable asset to them.
2. Less advertising
Word of mouth is still the most cost-effective and one of the best forms of advertising. People like to buy from people they have been referred to particularly if they have formed a relationship with someone first.
The best business relationships are built on trust. It’s very difficult to form a relationship with a business name, company or brand purely through advertising unless you embark on an extended branding campaign to build name recognition and brand equity. This can be a very costly exercise.
More networking means less advertising. The more you network through targeted functions and events, the less you need to advertise. Because people buy from people, not companies or an advertisement in the newspaper or magazine. They will trust the opinion of a friend, family member or colleague over an advertisement any day of the week.
3. Generation of quality leads and referrals
Another benefit of networking is the generation of leads and referral business which is why smart business people choose to participate in networking activities. The advantage of referral business is that the lead is already pre-qualified and is usually of a much higher quality.
Don’t restrict yourself to formal business network events only. It’s surprising how many contacts you can make while networking at social events, volunteering for not-for-profit organisations and working with community groups who give back to the community such as Lions International, Jaycees and Kiwanis.
Building a network is more than just making connections to generate leads, it’s also about making connections with others who can provide you with advice and information as well as raise your profile in the marketplace.
4. Raising your professional profile
People prefer to build a business relationship with others they consider helpful and valuable. This can’t happen if they don’t know about you, what you have to offer and how you can add value to them and their business. Word of mouth is still one of the most effective ways of generating leads and growing your business.
Being visible at networking events instantly raises your profile and is a major benefit of regularly attending networking events and engaging with others. It helps to get your face and name known and if you can also add value by providing useful tips, help and refer others, you build the reputation as being a person others want to get to know.
Share your ideas, expertise and information and above all, connect others. By connecting people who you know will benefit from meeting each other, dramatically improves your own profile and the strength of your network.
As you gain more confidence and build your reputation as being someone who is valuable, your connections will be more motivated to refer you to others. Others will want to get to know you and introduce you to their network immediately expanding your own personal network.
Find ways to add value to others when building your network. When you help others, they will want to help you in return. Share your expertise without expecting anything in return. You will soon build a reputation as someone others want to get to know.
5. Professional development
Business growth is dependent on talking to others and making connections which can easily be achieved through the power of networking. The more you learn to network, the more confident you become, the more connections you make, the more benefits you gain. Like learning any new skills, you must practice. As you practice your networking skills, eventually it builds your self-confidence by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to talk to people you have never met before.
By attending events where they have guest speakers, or attending seminars and workshops, you learn new skills as a leader and manager augmenting your own personal and professional development. You in turn can leverage what you learn, and pass this knowledge on building a reputation as a knowledgeable, reliable and supportive person others want to get to know.
6. Sharing of knowledge
The depth of knowledge and experience gained from joining a well-targeted networking group can be staggering.
Networking is not only a great activity for sharing knowledge, it allows you to be mentored both directly and indirectly. Chances are some of the people you will meet and connect with have been where you’ve been and can offer some friendly advice. It provides you with an opportunity to learn and avoid some of the common pitfalls others have already experienced.
Networking also allows you to expand your knowledge by listening to others, sharing ideas in discussions or even asking for feedback. Involving yourself in discussions not only expands your knowledge base, it also helps you see things from a different perspective, one that perhaps you hadn’t thought about before.
7. Other opportunities
When opportunity knocks at your door, you want to be a position to take advantage of it. The real power of networking presents opportunities such as joint ventures, partnerships, speaking opportunities…. the list goes on. Having a wide network puts you in a position to seize the moment and take opportunities as they present themselves.
It pays to be discerning when taking advantage of the opportunities networking presents and make sure they are aligned with your vision, mission, values, business goals and objectives.
8. Increased confidence
Imagine wanting to do business with someone who is not very confident. Would you put your trust and money in their hands? Obviously not.
One of the greatest benefits of networking is, you grow in confidence. As you push yourself to talk to people you don’t know, the more confident you become. Exuding confidence is very important in business. People are attracted to doing business with confident people as it relieves their stress of making a decision.
People don’t buy insurance; they buy peace of mind. People don’t buy your products or services, they buy the benefits of your products and services. When others have confidence in you, they in turn have more confidence that you can provide the products and services they want and need.
9. Intentional growth
Networking is not something that you want to leave to chance. Unlike social events where you tend to hang out with people you have something in common with, cultivating a meaningful business network means being intentional.
- Identify the types of people you want to meet.
- Research specific people you want to meet – for example by going to their LinkedIn profile or their website.
- If you have shared connections – ask for an introduction.
- Send a cold calling email by offering something of value.
- Attend relevant conferences, forums or events related to your industry.
- Join professional bodies related to your industry.
- Engage in activities that contribute to your personal and professional development.
Next time you think that you are too busy for networking activities, ask yourself, can you afford not to network?
Be intentional. Don’t leave growing your business to chance.
Making connections and building a network takes time so be patient. Make time and plan your approach so you maximize the benefits. Most of all, be committed. You need to be in it for the long haul. Do this and your efforts will pay off.
On a final note
When you harness the power of networking you will grow both yourself and your business exponentially.
In a Nutshell
- Networking gives you the opportunity to make meaningful and lasting connections
- Networking leads to word of mouth business saving you money on advertising.
- Networking is a great source of quality leads and referral business.
- Networking raises your professional profile and the profile of your business.
- Networking gives you free professional development opportunities.
- Networking allows you to share and receive valuable insights and knowledge.
- Networking provides you with additional opportunities and as join ventures, partnerships and even speaking opportunities.
- Networking helps become more confident.
- Networking, when intentional, cultivates a planned approach to success.
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