Networking is Much More Than Socializing
Casual networkers view networking as a form of socializing without focus and without goals. Effective networkers view it as a process of relationship building with very clear goals and objectives.
Business networking, like any other business activity, must be a productive use of time. To maximize your networking effectiveness, you should therefore clearly define your goals and objectives.
Following are some of the most common objectives for business networkers:
Broaden your exposure in the marketplace and create a positive impression on as many people in your business community as possible.
Identify those who might be prospects for your products or services
Build relationships with those who offer products or services that might be of value to you or your clients.
Build relationships with those who might become referral or strategic partners.
Build relationships with those who are influential in your business community.
Build relationships with those who can further your career.
Build relationships with those who might provide business counsel or become advisors or mentors.
Those with whom you network are experts in their fields. They can answer questions about their area of specialization, share their business experience and knowledge, and may in some instances become mentors. No one can know all there is to know about business and the advice of others can at times be extremely valuable. Networking at trade association expos and conferences will allow you to meet executives from other companies who might some day be your employer or be able to recommend you for an opening they have heard about. Earning the respect of those in your local community can lead to offers when positions become available. We have all heard the idiom: "It is not what you know, it is who you know that counts." Building relationships with the most influential members of your business community is a key to your success.
Referral partners are individuals who are able and willing to send you referrals in exchange for your help sending referrals to them. To find them at a networking event, you must have carefully thought through who the best referral partners for you might be. You must also have a strategy for turning a casual meeting into an opportunity to develop the relationship. As a business person you and the firm for which you work have needs for a wide variety of products and services. Networking is an effective way of meeting those who provide these products and services in your local community. Your customers also need a variety of products or services for business and personal use. If you can direct them to reputable providers of those services, you will be more valued as a resource and their loyalty will be enhanced. Keeping your client's needs in mind as you meet others at networking events, should be a habit you develop.
Most view this as the primary objective of networking. To identify prospects and create sales opportunities, you must be prepared to describe your business and its benefits clearly and succinctly. You must also be ready to qualify "suspects" and, if necessary, present your Unique Selling Proposition. The goal of an initial networking contact is not to close a deal, it is to create a follow up opportunity. Networking is an extremely effective way of creating awareness in your business community. For many start up companies, it is the only form of marketing that can be afforded. Fortunately, networking can also be the most effective form of marketing available.
Most business professionals view networking as a means of marketing their business, but overlook some of the other objectives that may be equally or even more important. Too much emphasis on selling at networking events can leave a negative impression. If you want to make a positive impression, make sure the discussion centers on them, not you.
What goals and objectives have you set for your networking activities? Which are most important? How will you measure your success? Like any other business activity, you must approach your networking with goals and a plan to achieve them.