Business networking Is A Form Of Marketing.
Apply Sustained Focused Effort
All forms of marketing benefit from strongly focused activity, which is necessary first:
- to create awareness, and then
- to build relationships to the point when a sale can be made.
A given amount of effort will produce much greater results when applied consistently in a strongly focused way, than the same amount of effort spread over several wider activities, especially if spread over time too.
This especially applies to business networking websites, where occasional light involvement has little impact, but focused continuous efforts can achieve a visible profile and build very many connections.
The same principle applies to local networking clubs, where occasional participation rarely penetrates the usual inner core of members, but regular enthusiastic involvement inevitably gains attention.
You should also be continuously open to unplanned networking opportunities, which can arise at any time. Business people are mostly normal human beings just like you. They have social lives, they travel, go to shops, sports events, restaurants, pubs, concerts, etc., and do lots of other things that you do too, quite outside of work. Paths can cross in the most unexpected places. You will find and develop connections in these unplanned situations if you:
- make eye-contact with people and smile
- take the initiative
- start conversations
- generally adopt an open friendly approach to everyone
- and always carry a pen and some business cards
Thereafter in all cases - planned and unplanned - much depends on what you offer to your connections - again see help others.
Business networking clubs and websites are full of people with many connections but little of value to offer, and they achieve poor results. Good results come instead from being friendly and open, from taking the initiative, from working hard at sustaining genuinely helpful contributions wherever you meet people.
In face-to-face networking clubs there is often a 'clique culture', in which members are defensive or sometimes seemingly arrogant. This often indicates a requirement to become known and trusted, which takes time and effort. (That said, if there is genuine arrogance, you would be sensible to find a different group.)
Business networking, like any other business activity, requires concentrated effort to produce results.
If you treat networking like an occasional or purely social club it will not produce good business results.
Business networking requires sustained effort to make things happen.
Sustained focused effort does not mean delivering a full-blown sales pitch to every person you meet, and plastering your brochures all around the hotel lobby.
Sustained focused effort means working hard to become a regular active helpful presence in the group.
Build relationships first, your reputation next, and referrals and introductions will follow.
A healthy balance in your life - of work, pleasure, business, social, etc - promotes and gives off a feeling of well-being, which is helpful for networking in many ways:
- you will be at ease and relaxed, and this transfers to others
- you will be able to engage and respond in lots of ways with lots of people
- your life balance will project confidence, which fosters confidence in others
- you will demonstrate that you are in control of yourself and your business
- people will buy or refer you as a person - not just your business specialism
This particularly applies to referrals and introductions, in which your character reflects directly on the person referring or introducing you.
Being a balanced person enables low stress and a feeling of assurance, which are very useful characteristics in business networking situations, and particularly so if you have aspirations to become a leading member of any of the networks you aim to work with.
Measuring or defining life balance is not easy, but we know it when we see it in others, and we respond to it.
Having good life balance contributes directly to the level of faith people have in you.
And crucially, life balance gives you the strength to absorb problems, to care for others, and maintain vital qualities like integrity, dependability, compassion and humanity.
Conversely when our life slips out of balance for any reason, we have less to give. We have lower reserves of enthusiasm, energy, tolerance, understanding and consideration for others - all essential for growing and maintaining a successful business network.
This prompts an incidental 'lifestyle' tip - for business networking events where alcohol might be available: drink in moderation and keep a reasonably clear head. This is not to say that you should reject all local customs where drinking is involved. In many social business events, including many foreign situations, drinking and eating are a very significant part of relationship-building. Use your judgment. Alcohol to a degree certainly helps many social processes, but taken to extremes tends to be counter-productive.
Networking Check List
- What goes around comes around.. humankind can't yet explain this scientifically, but it does seem to work. Give to receive. Counter-intuitive to many people, nevertheless it's the fundamental ethos of business networking. Help others.
- Use a helpful approach especially on business networking websites. Think: "What can I contribute to this community which people will find truly helpful?" And then work hard to extend that help - whatever it is - to as many relevant people as possible.
- Always keep your integrity. Nothing destroys networking like lack of trust. Trust is based on knowing that the other person has integrity.
- Ask people: "How can I help you?" and "What can I do for you?"
- Understand and use facilitative questioning. See Buying Facilitation. The techniques use careful questions to help people clarify their choices and decisions easier. It's a powerful ethos - applicable widely beyond selling.
- Develop a concise and impressive description of who you are and what you do. Aim high. Think Big.
- Develop a description of yourself and what you do as a written statement, and as a verbal statement (an 'elevator speech' or 'elevator pitch' - so called because it makes a successful impact in the time you share an elevator with someone who asks: "What do you do?").
- Develop slightly different descriptions of yourself for different situations - so that you are as relevant as possible. As you work with these descriptions or 'elevator speeches', you will find that a series of mix-and-match phrases take shape. Continue to refine and adapt these statements. Get feedback from people, and notice what works best, for different situations.
- Be different to everyone else - especially your competitors.
- Try to see all your competitors as potential allies. There is often not much difference - just a frame of mind. This can be very significant if you are spending a lot of time looking over your shoulder at what your competitors are doing, and not concentrating on building your own business.
- Direct all your efforts to growing your own positive activities, and resist losing valuable energy and time and resources combating or worrying about the apparent successes or advantages of others.
- Be positive. Use positive language. Smile. See the good in people. Be known as a really positive person. It rubs off on others and people will warm to you for being so.
- Keep your emotional criticisms and personal hang-ups about others to yourself. If you hear someone being negative about another person, you will often wonder, "I wonder if he/she says that sort of thing about me too?.."
- Some say it's bad Karma to speak ill of another. True or not, why risk it? Saying negative things at the expense of another person brings everyone down. This is the opposite of what business networking requires to succeed.
- Be passionate and enthusiastic, but not emotional and subjective. Avoid personalising situations. Remain objective.
- Seek feedback and criticism about yourself and your ideas from others. It is the most valuable market research you can obtain - and it's totally free.
- Be tolerant, patient, and calm. Particularly when others are agitated. Followers gather around calm people.
- Always carry a pen. Always carry a diary. Always carry your business cards. (Or modern electronic equivalents of all three..)
- Drink less alcohol than everyone else around you, and if you cannot trust yourself to do this, do not drink alcohol at all.
- Keep fit, or get fit, and then keep fit. Success and followers tend to gravitate towards people who take care of their bodies, as well as their thoughts and actions.
- As soon as you can, create or have built a clean and clear website for yourself or your business. It is the ultimate universal calling card, brochure, and CV, all rolled into one, and perpetually available.
- Only promise or offer what you can fully deliver and follow up. Always aim to under-promise, and then over-deliver.
- Take great care with quick electronic messages (texts, messages, emails, etc) - you will be amazed at how many misunderstandings and breakdowns in relationships occur because a message is wrongly interpreted. Check and read twice everything you send.
- Always follow up everything that you say you will do, however small the suggestion.
- If you accept a referral or introduction to someone always follow it through.
- Say "Thank you" to people whenever the opportunity arises - especially to people who get taken for granted a lot.
- Be interested in all people. Invest your time, attention and genuine understanding in them.
- Understand what empathy really means, and practice it. Look people in the eyes. Listen with your eyes. This is about communicating at a deeper empathic level than business folk normally employ. Very many business discussions are superficial - like a game or a set of dance steps; instead make a determined effort to concentrate and care about the other person. Listen properly.
- Find reasons to give positive feedback to people - give and mean it.
- Stand up for what's right and protect less strong people from wrong, especially where you see bullying, cruelty, discrimination, meanness, etc. You will hear it everywhere when you step back and out of the crowd.
- Networking is about building a wide and relevant network of meaningful contacts - not just having lots of one-to-one meetings. Big strongly connected networks inevitably capture more opportunities than networks with lots of holes and weak connections.
- Choose your most trusted and closest associates very carefully - reputations are built according to the company you keep, beyond how you yourself behave.
- Target groups and connections that are relevant - which fit your purposes, and you fit theirs.
- Don't waste your time on groups and connections that lack integrity or relevance.
- Recommendations reflect powerfully on the recommender, therefore: Recommend only those people you are confident will reflect well on you, and always ensure you reflect brilliantly and memorably on anyone who recommends you.
- Seek and take opportunities to make a positive difference towards a positive aim (of anyone's) wherever you can - even if some of these opportunities are unpaid and unrewarded in conventional terms. You will learn a lot, create new opportunities for yourself, and develop a reputation for producing good results out of nothing. This is a powerful personal characteristic which people find completely irresistible.
- Be clear and realistic about what you want when you are asked. Have a plan.
- Research the customs and expectations of foreign cultures before networking with foreign business-people. What is considered normal in your own part of the world could be quite inappropriate in another.