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Build Your Business Through Networking

While it may not get as much buzz these days as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, old-fashioned, face-to-face networking is still essential for building a business.

One of the most effective ways to grow your business is also one of the oldest: networking. While it may not get as much buzz these days as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, old-fashioned, face-to-face networking is still essential for building a business.

One of my favorite business mottos is that, all else being equal, people do business with people they know and like. That’s why networking is so important. I’m not suggesting you give up your social networking efforts, but simply that social networking is just one part of the overall networking picture.

If the word-networking makes you break out in a cold sweat at the idea of entering a roomful of strangers, try these tips to make networking easier, more effective and maybe even fun.

Set goals for networking. Like any business effort, you need to set measurable goals so you can determine the best networking strategy. Do you want to make X number of new contacts per month? Do you want to obtain X number of qualified leads? Do you want to find a new supplier or vendor for a particular item? Setting goals is also key to determining how yo’ll assess the success of your networking efforts.

Map out a strategy. Now that you know what kind of people you want to meet, figure out what organizations and events they are likely to attend. Are there key industry trade groups whose conferences you should be attending? Would you benefit from local groups such as your Chamber of Commerce? How about specialized groups such as networking organizations for women or minority entrepreneurs? There are also groups organized around specific topics, such as sales lead generating groups or finding financing.

Block out time. Figure out how much time you need to devote to networking to achieve your goals, and how much time you can realistically spend. Depending on your goals, you may want to focus on one organization or spread your efforts among several groups. Whatever you do, do’t take a scattershot approach. Give each group at least two or three tries before you decide how valuable it is.

Be prepared. When you attend networking events, be prepared with plenty of business cards and an ‘elevator pitch” a brief one- or two-sentence description of your business that clearly conveys what you do and is intriguing enough that people want to learn more. Bring pens for jotting notes on the back of business cards.

Mingle. It’s always nice to attend an event with a friend, but if you do, be sure to split up. Spending all your time with people you already know negates the purpose of networking. Set a goal to meet a certain number of new people at each event. Networking is kind of like cold calling: The more you do it, the less scary it becomes. If you’re nervous about being rejected, try greeting the newcomers to the event. They’ll be eternally grateful. As you consistently meet new people, you’ll find you no longer have that urge to retreat to the safety of your familiar faces and you’ll find more people wanting to meet you!

Listen. Listening is the secret to making sales, and it’s also the secret to successful networking. When you meet someone new, ask questions and really listen to the answers. You’ll find if you listen carefully, two things happen. First, you’ll spot needs that your business can fill. Second, you’ll gain a reputation as a great conversationalist!

Take a test drive. In most cases, it’s perfectly acceptable to attend two or three meetings as a non-member. Don’t commit to joining a group unless you really feel you will get something out of it. There are so many options for networking that you need to target your efforts to the events that get you the best results.

Take a leading role. Once you’ve decided to join an organization, don’t just sit back and relax. Join a committee or take a leadership role. By doing so, you’ll learn more, you’ll meet more people, and you’ll make yourself memorable”not just another face in the crowd. Bonus: When you’re working on something you’ll have less time to feel nervous.

Follow up. You can go to 20 networking events a month, but if you don’t follow up on the contacts you make, it’s all for nothing. Within 48 hours after each event, follow up on your new contacts in some way”even if it’s just a quick e-mail saying how nice it was to meet them. Take action on what you talked about at the event”if you discussed meeting for lunch, follow up with a specific invitation; if you suggested talking by phone, set a time for the call. Acting within 48 hours helps cement you in the other person’s mind and starts building the relationship.

Integrate online and offline. Incorporate your real-world networking contacts into your social networking efforts. When you meet someone at an event, follow up with an invitation to connect on LinkedIn or Twitter. Similarly, meeting up with your online contacts offline can be a great way to take those relationships to the next level. Try organizing a meetup of one of your most useful online networking groups.

Keep at it. As with all things worth achieving in life, the true key to successful networking is persistence. It’s kind of like that principle of compound interest that our math teachers explained to us all when we were kids. As you get to know more people and maintain and grow those relationships, your circle expands exponentially. As you do business with your new contacts, your business will grow exponentially, too.

By Rieva Lesonsky on November 16, 2018

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