There’s no denying the power of a strong professional network. In fact, according to Small Business BC, your ability to network like a champ is critical for both business development and personal growth. Fortunately, cultivating potentially profitable relationships is a skill that can be learned like any other. Here are 7 tips you should be using to improve the success of your networking efforts.
1. Start with the Right Venues
Networking is a bit of a numbers game. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the business owner with the most contacts wins. Choosing your networking venues wisely will save time and increase your odds of making every interaction count. Consider joining your local chamber of commerce, regional industry associations, or any other special interest group where people share your personal, professional, or community interests.
2. Prepare in Advance
Stocking up on business cards, pamphlets, or printed postcards is a no-brainer when it comes to preparing for a networking event. Just try and reserve them for people who show a genuine interest in your venture. Creating and practicing a brief elevator pitch, meanwhile, is a great way to always have a ready and engaging response to the question, “So, what do you do?”
3. Just Be Yourself
Starting a dialogue with a stranger doesn’t come easily to everyone. But you can be yourself and still network successfully by asking questions about other people’s interests, or inviting their professional opinions. Adopting this approach usually leads to the discovery of common ground that can make relating and conversing far less challenging.
4. Cast a Wide Net
Although it can be tempting to enjoy the company of people you already know, the whole point of networking is to mingle with as many new people as possible. Try taking the view that any one of those yet-to-be-met connections could become your next customer, a potential mentor, or an unexpected link to your next business deal.
5. Aim for Genuine Relations
Genuine relationships are at the heart of every successful network, so it’s important to remember that networking is a process, not a one-and-done deal. When you meet someone that you click with – or who may be in a position to help you, or vice versa – make a point of getting to know them better by suggesting a follow-up meeting.
6. Leave Your Sales Hat at Home
Networking is largely about looking for ways to pay it forward – not for occasions to pay yourself. Although the exchange of ideas and contact information is ideally meant to lead to new business, that’s unlikely to happen if you approach networking as one big sales opportunity. People tend to do business with people they know and trust. And focusing on what you can do for somebody else is the best way to build credibility.
7. Always Follow Up
Following up with new associates is essential if you want to establish a meaningful network. You might accomplish this by forwarding the contact information you promised to provide, inviting them to coffee, or sharing a recent article that could be of interest. At the very least, you should touch base to let these acquaintances know how much you enjoyed meeting them.
Remember: behind every new connection lies an extended network with the potential to offer your business greater exposure. Networking like a champ not only helps you gain access to new clients and advocates, it can improve your personal, professional, and brand visibility.