Networking to Network
I get asked all the time if I thought that there was value in attending a specific networking event. I sometimes answer yes, if I feel like the venue and those in attendance brought value to the time spent. In most cases, I answer no and proceed to explain the issues with the way many network functions are held today. In my 15 plus years of attending and hosting outreach and networking forums, I have found that there are some keys to the success of the event.
I recently read an article on Forbes.com, 8 Secrets from Power Networking Pros, that I found interesting. Many of the tips I have known or heard before, but with everything, we read it is always about the presentation of the content that sometimes triggers the "Ah-Ha moment". These were just a few of my favorites.
Ask For a Strategic Introduction
Many of us like to just put on the courage and walk up to someone we don't know that could potentially impact our business, and sell our services and products on our own. Well, this might not be the best way to make that initial connection. I have found that when I am introduced to someone through a close contact or colleague I tend to remember that person and I am more likely to reach out to them to further develop the relationship. I also find, that when I introduce people to those I know that have the resources to positively impact another, the vetting of that prospect now has my "seal of approval" on it. Long-standing relationships are not long-standing for no reason! Utilize the leverage of your colleagues to bridge that uncomfortable first impression.
Deepen Your Network Pool
My mantra for many years has been to get to know people who are not in the same industry. For many reasons, including the potential for business opportunities. I would encourage small business owners to go to pre-bid conferences or a networker that had nothing to do with their industry and meet new people. More than likely they are all there trying to sell themselves to the same few prime contractors or purchasing agents. Meanwhile, you are in a room full of contacts for the picking! Increase your margin of success by engaging with groups that offer a potential of increased business and partnerships. On the flip side of that coin, it is also a great business practice to meet your competition and develop relationships. Make sure your network has the same type of depth as a great football or basketball team. Establish several strings of depth to provide you with a dynamic and diverse business base.
Don't Just Collect Business Cards
Business cards can be costly for small businesses, especially start-ups, additionally, business cards only say so much about your business unless you have printed on both sides in font size 5. Going to a networker and walking away with 50 cards doesn't help you if you never collected the one card (sometimes that is all it takes) to make a difference in your business's growth. So, I hesitate to take cards from people and will sometimes politely tell them to keep their cards for someone who can best utilize it. Yeah, I get a few looks but, I would rather be upfront with them about any type of further relationship development and use of their services or products. If, as a business owner, you can't handle someone telling you to keep your card, then you need to grow some tougher skin for this game! All seriousness, business card collection should never be the game plan of your networking. If it is, then you do not have a clear idea of the intent and vision of your business.
Networking works! Networking is fun! If done right and creatively it can be beneficial for the host and the attendees. There is power in networking and there is potential in doing it strategically.
Sheena is the owner of Lengo a consultancy suite specializing in competitive business plan development and value creation propositions. With her mission to educate, inform and empower entrepreneurs and professionals, she continues to create and facilitate opportunities for maximum growth potential through focused plans and strategies.