The term conjures up images of a world of suits and handshakes, formal breakfasts and business card exchanges. But, as daunting a prospect as it may seem to the small business owner, professional networking is an invaluable way of delivering value back to a business. When it is utilized as a business opportunity, networking is priceless. It creates value from both potential commercial opportunities as well as sales growth from exposure. Below are nine tips to follow that can help anyone become adept at professional networking and develop into an effective networking machine at events!
#1 - It needs 100%
If you are going to network, make sure you do it properly. Effective business networking cannot be taken lightly, or be approached half-heartedly. Represent your business to the world by looking immaculate, and being completely knowledgeable on all parts of your business.
#2 - You will be (net)working outside normal hours.
You will need to put in a lot of your own time (often before or after hours) when networking as most events and meetings of this sort are done outside normal working hours. Keep in mind that social situations should be considered equally important for your networking purposes.
#3 - Don’t be unprepared.
Make sure that before you arrive you have a good understanding of what you want to get out of the event or meeting, and you know exactly how you want to portray yourself and your business to the people you meet.
#4 - Listen to others first.
When you’re first getting started it’s more important to listen than to be heard. Take in as much advice from experienced networkers as you can. They’ll appreciate the fact that you’re listening to what they have to say and it will help you form strong personal relationships with people that matter; people who will be able to help you out in the future.
#5 - Communicate yourself.
People skills are the key to forming a strong business relationships. Some people are lucky enough to be born with charisma, but for the rest of us great communication skills are learned. If you’re unsure on where to start, begin your search around interpersonal communication on the web, as well as on Amazon (you can find many great books on the topic).
#6 - Ignore online at your peril.
Web based professional networks are an extremely powerful business networking force. Online business networks allows anyone with the right knowledge and motivation to make a name for themselves, and reap the rewards that come with being a business networking pro. Don’t ignore it.
#7 - Don’t market, form relationships.
Don’t confuse professional networking with personal marketing. The point isn’t to sell something to someone, but to work on forming relationships with like minded people within your industry and customer base who may be open to adding value to your brand or company.
#8 - Think of it like speed dating.
Effective business networking can often be somewhat similar to speed dating, as many rules seem to apply to both. Whenever you connect with someone, you need to be fast and efficient in getting across your credentials, and highlight the value you provide. Remember, you will also be meeting new people regularly and if it initially puts you out of your comfort zone, that’s usually a good sign that you’re doing it right.
#9 - Quality, not quantity.
Keep in mind that the quality of your contacts is far more important than the quantity. Make sure to take the time to form strong relationships with people who aren’t just interested in forcing their own marketing onto you.
The Final Word.
Once you’ve decided to take the plunge into the world of business networking don’t restrict yourself to one form or the other. Both online and in-person networking have their own unique benefits on both local and global scales. Taking advantage of what they both have to offer will greatly increase the overall effectiveness of your network.
Finally, your ultimate goal should be to develop a strong network of real world and online business contacts, so that over time your network will become an invaluable asset to your business, and yourself.
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