The term networking has become a popular buzzword throughout the business world today. Popular as the term is, however, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about it, how to network effectively, and where your time as a business owner or manager is best spent within the networking arena.
The term networking actually refers to the building of a loose community of individuals bound by mutual trust and common interest. This doesn’t mean that everyone in a particular networking group necessarily operates in the same industry. In most cases, a business network usually goes beyond simple industry affiliations, with the common goal being to give participants an enjoyable method and place to let other business owners, entrepreneurs, and managers know what they do and seek out reputable and quality sources for goods and services. Most networking groups also function as a place to receive constructive insight into business practices and to learn from each other. By actively engaging in networking, you can expand your company’s exposure and exponentially increase the ability to secure customers and clients via referrals.
There are a variety of networking groups available in most towns and cities across the nation. Some of them are free to join while others require a membership fee. Probably the best way to find out what’s available in your area is to simply start asking other professionals and business owners that you know if they are participating in a particular group. Ask them if it’s an active group and if they see any potential benefit from you joining. Many groups also maintain websites, Facebook pages, or Twitter accounts too. If you don’t know anyone who is participating in a group, searching these online venues may be the best method for you to locate groups close to you.
Once you’ve found a networking group in your area, here are five suggestions that can enhance your networking successes and position you and your business in a positive light:
1. Be Authentic and Genuine
Trust is simply indispensable in effective personal networking. Business networking is no different. If you want to succeed at it, you’ll have to gain people’s trust. In order to do that, you have to prove to them that your intentions are honorable and genuine. This isn’t going to happen overnight and you’ll need to be intentional in your relationship-building efforts. But, consistency and honesty in living out these virtues will ultimately reward your efforts with solid business relationships yielding referrals and benefits for you and your business over time.
2. Set Goals
Beyond establishing trust, other goals need to be set. Once you’ve found a networking group that you want to invest your time and effort into, make it a point to establish some reasonable goals or benchmarks that you seek to achieve as a result of your investment there. What are your overall goals associated with this group? Why are you there? How does this particular networking opportunity help you reach these goals? Knowing your goals helps maintain focus and increases interest.
3. Get Involved
This may be one of the hardest steps for some people, particularly those who are more introverted. Simply attending a group isn’t going to result in achieving the goals you put together. However, volunteering for duties within the organizations and business groups you belong to helps solidify your reputation (and also boosts the trust factor discussed in point number one). Working side by side with other business owners in these groups allows you to get to know them a little bit better. It also gives them insight into who you are and that is critical for building lasting relationships. These relationships go a long way into developing referrals based on the solid reputation you’ve gained among other business owners and professionals within your group.
4. Advance Yourself as an Authority in Your Field
Make sure that you can provide good referrals and answers for people whenever they need them. Knowing the names of the various people within the organizations to which you belong is a great first step in the process of establishing yourself in their minds. It is also very important that you develop a pool of knowledge on the areas of common interest so that you can be a positive resource to them during conversations, presentations, and round table meetings. As people start to recognize that you truly are skilled in your profession or business, they will not hesitate to recommend you and your company to those they come into contact with outside your networking group.
5. Be Proactive
Whenever you receive those sought after referrals and recommendations, it’s an indication that your efforts have paid off and are now being rewarded. But you can’t stop there and rest. It is imperative that you honor your these acknowledgment by following up on the referral. Also, don’t forget to express a word or note of thanks for the recommendation and trust someone else placed in you. Again this goes a long way in establishing your overall reputation as a professional among those within your networking group.
Finally, slow down enough so you can actually enjoy the time spent with your networking group. After all, finding such a like-minded group of professionals and entrepreneurs to meet with on a regular basis and use as a source of accountability and encouragement is a great tool for you – and that’s likely true both personally and professionally. So what’s left to do? Go out and begin your networking adventure!