We’d all agree that we prefer to do business with those we know, like and trust. It follows, then, that if we can encourage these traits in others, our businesses should benefit. Most of the time, knowledge, likeability and trustworthiness are earned as the result of doing business with each other. But it’s not the only way. There is another route to earning mutual respect that doesn’t come from doing business but could very well lead to it.
I’m talking about networking. For some businesses it’s an integral part of what they do but for others, networking is simply not working. And I think I know why.
There is a common misconception that networking is all about meeting new potential customers. Of course, you might just do that. But to go along with the intention of picking up a few sales is to miss the whole point. Business networking is about marketing yourself and your business, not selling.
And, used wisely, it can be one of your most cost-effective business-building tools.
Ambassadors for your business
Just remember, networking doesn’t provide instant gratification. Your objective is to earn the trust of fellow members, to get to know them and to get them to know and like you. And that takes time. The most powerful benefit of networking is the creation of ambassadors; fellow members who know enough about your business and who trust you enough to stake their reputation on recommending you to their peers.
So if networking has not been working for you, or if you have never tried it, here are some tips from an inveterate networking warrior.
- Choose your networking group carefully. Spend some time visiting a few and look for those that have members who attend regularly and have a track record for retaining active members. Also bear in mind this is a marketing exercise, so you should choose a group where the membership is compatible with your product or service. Think of people who might influence others into doing business with you. If you sell widgets, don’t just look for widget buyers, look for the bank managers, solicitors, accountants or consultants who might influence a potential widget buyer to get in touch.
- Once you have chosen your group, stick with it. Attend all the meetings you can and work on building those mutually beneficial relationships. If existing members are going to trust you enough to recommend you, then they need to know something about you. Not just what you do, but how well you do it, for whom you do it and how often you do it.
- As soon as you can, get involved and make yourself visible. Come up with ideas, participate in debates, offer advice. Establishing yourself as a key member of a networking group brings its own benefits and connections will come much more quickly
- Don’t leave it to the meetings. Add your new contacts to your database and keep them informed about what you are doing. If you are running events invite them along; if you have news, inform them. The more they know about you and your business, the better for you.
- Don’t forget it’s a two-way street. Get to know the other members and understand their business. Be prepared to give before you get. If you’re unsure about how to start, you can always ask them: “How am I going to know when I meet a really good prospect for you?”
- Share your knowledge and your experience. Successful networking is about mutual support, give and take. So if you have information which could be of value to other members, share it. If you are in a position to refer them, do so. Be as ambitious for them as you are for yourself.
Above all, enjoy it. Networking shouldn’t be a chore. If you find the right group your meetings should be fun, informative and, in due course, profitable.