When I began my networking journey, I attended any and all networking events as time permitted. Every event was fair game! Today I am much more strategic in my networking endeavors. I discovered which events and organizations gave me the best return on my investment of time as well as how to be an effective, caring networker.
In order to know where to begin you must first understand what networking is and why it is important to grow your business. Networking in its purest form is simply talking to people, making connections and developing rapport to grow our circle of influence. Business networking is essentially the same except that our primary objective in business networking is to help us grow our businesses. For most of us, building a network means meeting people we can do business with or who will do business with us, or refer people who will do business with us, are our ultimate goals.
In fact, some of the best networks are those created by people who own and run their own businesses. When you create valuable networking relationships, you build them on a foundation of mutual trust, sharing knowledge, experiences and resources to help one another grow your businesses by either referring one another or doing business directly with one another.
It works like this: If you do a good job, one customer might tell three to five of her colleagues, family and friends about you. Whereas, when you build a network of say 10 to 20 strong advocates, they may each tell only one person about your, however your “exposure” is now more than doubled – With the right network, the ultimate in “word of mouth” marketing takes place. You promote your network, and your network promotes you.
Have you ever attended a BNI or Le Tip or other form of structured networking groups? Perhaps you are already a member of a similar group. If not, you might consider becoming involved in one to the fastest growing business networking concepts around. These groups invite business professionals to join on an exclusive basis. That means, that if you are a chiropractor and become a member of one of these groups, no other chiropractor will be invited or allowed to join.
These groups have regularly scheduled meetings (anywhere from monthly to weekly) with a list of rules and objectives to which you must abide. In some cases, a minimum number of referrals is required to participate. In others, simply doing business with one or more in the network is all that is asked of he members. However, keep in mind that for this type of networking to be worthwhile for all parties, each must make every effort to do business with other members of the group.
If this form of structured networking isn’t for you, there are other options for finding potential networking venues and partners. Here are some ideas to help you on your way to networking success.
a. Develop a joiners mentality. By that I mean, don’t just sign up to get our name on a roster. REALLY JOIN. Get involved. Participate in discussions, events and BE VISIBLE. The saying “out of sight, is out of mind, ” holds true when it comes to networking. I have been involved in groups and decided to take a hiatus from attending for 2 to 3 months (and sometimes more) only to have people come up to me and tell me they forgot the name of my business so they had to find someone else either through a friend or through the local phone book. BUMMER!
b. Attend networking functions. These can include Chambers of Commerce meetings, after hours socials, ad hoc committees and special events task forces.
c. Get involved in a community service group such as Kiwanis, Lions, Jaycees, etc.
d. Volunteer with a non-profit organization, whose mission you are passionate about and believe in. People who have similar passions will want to do business with you.
e. Host events – I started an event called Goddess Gatherings more than 2 years ago in my home. It is an intimate gathering of women (8 max. ) who share a common interest and/or wish to expand their own circles. I invite women who do not yet know one another although they may be familiar with their names. These women are women in my circle of influence either directly or indirectly (they are either members of the 22 groups I belong to and attend regularly or they are part of a circle within these groups). I might invite a “surprise” guest who can entertain the women - such as a masseuse or tarot card reader- or feature a business such as a jeweler or make-up artist. This helps make for a memorable evening and the women either start their own Gathering or look forward to being invited to another gathering hosted by either myself of one of the women in attendance.
f. Look for ways to cross-promote with businesses that complement yours. For instance, a spa might join with a health food store or restaurant and promote their products and services for staying healthy. A salon might join a florist to promote weddings or proms and a realtor might join with a mortgage broker to promote a “one-stop” experience for home buyers.
g. Interview others. A great way for me to network is to interview women for projects I am working on. Since most people are flattered when you ask their opinion about something or experiences in life, this has been a great means of increasing my own circle for various reasons. I might interview a woman (or even a man) about an article or book I am writing, or a seminar I am developing. People love to share their stories. I tape the interview (with their permission, of course) and give them a copy afterwards. It helps to have a list of questions ready prior to the interview, however, unless they insist, I don’t give them the questions ahead of time. I have done these interviews via phone, email as well as in person. Many of the women have since.
h. Join an online business or social networking community such as MeetUp, Ryze, Max-in-Common, Linkd In, Open BC, to name a few, . These groups have subgroups made up of people with a specific focus and similar interests. Or you can join a non-specific group to gain more knowledge, exposure and contacts.
Make a point of attending one new networking event a month just to “check it out. ” Make a list of the people you know, the organizations you have heard and read about and the companies who currently do business with you. These are all great resources to tap into to find new venues to network. Get the local newspaper and look at the organizations and businesses hosting events to which the public is invited. Attend them.
The best networking begins with planning and taking action. Being strategic in your planning is important to your ultimate success as an effective, caring networker.
If you are interested in sharing your networking success stories, drop me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be an honor to interview you. Who knows, your story could be the subject of one of my articles, or you could even write your own. . Looking forward to hearing from you. Here’s to your success in building your network.
© 2005 - Heidi Richards is the author of The PMS Principles, Powerful Marketing Strategies to Grow Your Business and 7 other books. She is also the Founder & CEO of the Women’s ECommerce Association, International http://www.WECAI.org (pronounced wee-kī) – an Internet organization that “Helps Women Do Business on the WEB. ” Basic Membership is FREE. Ms. Richards can be reached at Heidi@speakingwithspirit.com or email@example.com .