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ABC's of Networking
Networking is an art, a science, and a skill that most of us need to work on to hone. Any business owner or professional can benefit from professional networking. Here are some tips for effective networking to get the most out of the process for your business and career.
Talk to other women business owners in your area to find out what groups they belong to and consider joining some to expand your network. Call your chamber of commerce to learn where entrepreneurs near you meet up. Networking is all about seeking connections with other people, so you have to be willing to reach out and identify the ideal settings and events.
When you attend a networking event, make sure you have business cards at the ready. While you don't want to run around the room pushing your promotional materials on other attendees, you also don't want to have to dig through your handbag to come up with a business card should someone ask you for one. If you ask for or receive a business card, have a pen handy to jot down a few notes for yourself to follow up later.
At most networking events, the actual time for “networking” is limited. To make better connections more quickly, ask others about what they do first. Letting others tell you who they are gives you time to identify common ground for a more fruitful conversation. Make sure you’ve prepared your own “elevator speech” about who you are and what you do in case someone asks.
Don't limit yourself
Women's business groups are perfect places to connect and share with other female entrepreneurs. But don’t stick to the same types of events every month. "Don't just reach out to women's groups," said Ann Byne, president of the Byne Group. "Get in the mix." Look at other business groups and community events to expand your network beyond your immediate circles. When you're in business for yourself, you want to maximize your time by selecting the right ways to spend it.
Extend an ear
Good networking is a two-way street. It isn't about making a sales pitch - it's about building relationships that could lead to sales in the future. How you listen is just as important - maybe even more important - than what you say. Be an active listener; focus your full attention on the person who is speaking, make eye contact, and ask questions that show you're really interested in what they have to say.
Attending a networking event is only the beginning. "Just remember that after the day is done, and you've gone home with all those business cards, now the work begins," KleenSlate Concepts founder Julia Rhodes said. "What will set you apart from the ones that just show up is the follow up. It is the follow up that will get you the business you went to secure in the first place." The days and weeks after an event, e-mail, call or even “snailmail” the people you spoke with to tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them and include something specific related to the exchanges you had.
Generate leads for others
Generosity goes a long way. Almost everyone who attends a networking event is seeking something - knowledge, more connections, customers. Understanding what other people need can strengthen your own networking efforts. When you follow up with others, look for ways to connect them to the things - and people - they need.
People are more likely to approach you if you look like a pleasant conversationalist. Smile, make eye contact, and enjoy yourself! Your goal is to meet new people and build relationships that will lead to more business. People gravitate towards other people who look kind and approachable.
Invite others into the conversation
If you sometimes feel hesitant in a networking setting, imagine the people who find networking terrifying. When you see someone standing solo at an event, invite them into a conversation you’re already having with someone else. Making others feel comfortable is a great way to connect.
Join other conversations
A more challenging tactic is to enter into conversations others are already having. Before you say anything, pay attention to what is being said and look for ways to politely comment or simply say hello. Most people will welcome someone new into a conversation.
Link up online
While in-person networking is important, remember that you're not limited to networking in your own area. Set up a profile on professional social networks such as LinkedIn or BizNik and connect with others online.
Not every networking event or forum is going to lead to a big sale, but each connection you make lays the groundwork for future opportunities. "Going to events, participating and giving back puts you in the minds of people you are meeting," Rhodes said. "You never know if you will sell a product or service, find that partner you are looking for, receive a referral, be asked to speak at an event or find a friend for life. That's the beauty of networking."