Success in business is all about having advantages. People invest in education so they can increase their value when they apply for a job. You could take up special certification courses to validate your qualifications. However, in a competitive industry, you need an asset that will optimize your skills, education, and experience. This asset is a strong network of leads and referrals.
Why You Should Network
We discussed the benefits of networking for your business in our article, “How Can Networking Help My Business Grow”. While we will no longer touch on the topic, it is worthwhile to put into context why you should network.
In website design, we advocate optimizing content for our clients. Optimization is an effective process of making sure the client’s content is searchable on the Internet.
Every day billions of content is shared through social media, email, chat forums, and other sources of information. It doesn’t matter how great you wrote your blog or how well-researched it was. It will not be found unless it is optimized.
Networking is a way of optimizing your overall value proposition.
Networking creates channels for your skills, experience, and expertise to be found and appreciated by potential partners, clients, or associates.
It will not matter if you garnered academic accolades at a university. Your achievements and contributions to your company’s success will not reap career dividends if you cannot connect with key people in the industry.
A person with lesser qualifications but savvy networking skills will gain a decided advantage over you despite your glowing resume.
3 Basic Principles Of Networking
Entrepreneurs understand the value of networking to stay ahead in business. They know the importance of establishing connections with people who could support their enterprise or career choices. Many of them dedicate time to networking activities. However, some are able to reap the rewards of networking better than others.
Whether you are planning to start a business or explore a new career opportunity, networking will help you achieve your goals and objectives. The key is to do it right.
Here are 3 basic principles to keep in mind when networking.
1. The Earlier You Network The Better
The earlier you start, the sooner you can build your network of connections. In fact, for younger readers who are still in school, you should network right now.
Start by establishing key relationships in organizations in your campus and in others. Join associations that bring together like-minded people across different universities.
There is no better time to start networking than right now. Networking is also a learned skill. The more frequently you network, the better you will get at it.
2. Qualify Your Connections
Don’t network blindly. Connect with people whom you believe have the skills, knowledge, experience, and yes, network, to contribute to your career or enterprise.
Before networking, create a profile of the ideal contact. What are their specific skills or expertise? What are their company designations? Which industries do they belong to?
3. Focus On Building Relationships
Establishing a network is not a negotiation where one party seeks to have an advantage over another in the agreement. It must be mutually beneficial to both parties. The foundation of a network will depend on the strength of its relationships.
Take the time to get to know the other person better. Find out who he/she is; what makes him/her get out of bed every day. Uncover what their goals are. By discovering the person behind the contact, you will have a better understanding if he/she will be a right fit for your own goals and objectives.
10 Effective Ways To Build A Strong Network Of Leads And Referrals
Now that you know how to approach networking, it is time to get connected! Put your plan into motion and start circulating so you can build a strong network of leads and referrals.
Here are 10 ways that you can network effectively and establish a good list of dependable contacts:
1. Take the Time to Attend Networking Events
In order to build your contacts list, you have to network actively. Networking events are happening every day. You just have to know where to look and whom to ask. Here are some organizations that you may want to approach and find out if they have networking events coming up:
- Chamber of Commerce
- Industry Associations
- Trade Groups and Organizations
You could also ask people from your existing contact list whom you know frequently attend networking events for their suggestions. They might extend an invitation for you to attend some of the events they go to.
2. Join Organizations In Your Industry
It is likewise a good idea to join organizations that are involved in your industry. You will have opportunities to meet key influencers, successful business leaders, and top executives.
In addition to including them in your network, you could learn from their experience. Many of these key influencers are more than willing to share their knowledge and experience with new players and up and coming players in the industry.
3. Get Referral Recommendations From Your Own Network
Sometimes the best contacts reside closer to home. Before looking at outside sources, review your current network. Identify contacts who may be able to give you referrals or an endorsement to a key person in your industry.
A referral is a powerful tool. It is basically a seal-of-approval from someone whom the key person or contact trusts. Getting a referral or an endorsement will help you bypass any qualification process that a contact may have in place.
4. Connect With Your School Alumni
Here’s another reason why you should start networking while still in school. The relationships you build while in school are traditionally stronger and long-lasting.
Recess-time discussions and hanging out may have seemed trivial back then. However, it’s the shared experiences that foster strong relationships that stand the test of time.
Do your best to stay active with your school alumni. If there are high school or college reunions, make it a point to attend. If possible, ask to be involved in the planning process assuming your batch has been tasked to host the homecoming event.
Even if you were not classmates, school alumni are generally very loyal and supportive to one another. Once a referred contact finds out you shared the same school, it becomes easier to break the ice and start a good friendship.
5. Focus On Establishing Quality Contacts
In networking, you should only keep in mind one rule: “It’s not how many people you’ve met, it’s whom you’ve met that matters.” One of the biggest misconceptions about networking is that it’s a game of collecting calling cards.
The quantity of contacts you add is not as important as the quality of contacts you make.
Remember our second basic principle in networking: Qualify your connections.
Before setting out for the networking event, do some research. Find out the following information:
- Who is attending?
- What companies will be represented?
- What is the purpose of the networking event?
- What is the agenda of the networking event?
From there, look into the backgrounds of the attendees. Read as much as you can about their companies; accomplishments, contributions to the industry, key people in the organization, and socio-civic activities.
Make a list of the people that you want to connect with. Don’t make it very extensive. If the networking event is one hour long, allocate 10 to 15 minutes per contact. At the end of the evening, you may have added 5 to 6 quality contacts to your network.
6. Assume the Protagonist Mindset
Having a protagonist mindset means looking for win-win situations. Successful networking isn’t just about finding connections that benefit your interests. As we mentioned earlier, networking isn’t a negotiation process where one party benefits more than the other party. You cannot build a strong relationship that way.
A potential contact will have an idea if you are trying to gain an advantage from the way you are navigating the conversation. Focusing the discussion on yourself, showing disinterest while the other person is talking, and cutting in during the conversation are clear signals that you are only interested in personal gain.
7. Take a Proactive Approach
People who attend networking events expect others to ask their help. Why not take a proactive approach and offer your help to the other person before being asked?
If during your talk, you realize that the other person may have immediate need of your expertise, go ahead and provide the assistance. This is an opportunity for you to show what you can do.
At the same time, it will start the ball rolling. If the contact is valuable, he/she will be more than willing to reciprocate and return the favor.
8. Facilitate Connections
You don’t have to secure an immediate deal or arrangement as proof of effective networking. You can likewise be a facilitator and connect a person you just met with someone in your network who can provide the needed assistance.
This is another way of being proactive. It will show that you are a valuable connection. The person you just helped will keep that mind and will not hesitate to offer his/her assistance in the future.
Your contact in your current network will also appreciate the referral. He/she will keep you top of mind when someone needs your knowledge and experience.
9. Be Active On Social Media
Networking is a social event. Social media gives you opportunities to network from home or the office. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and especially LinkedIn are valuable sources of potential contacts that can provide you leads and referrals.
LinkedIn has features that allow you to actively participate in your community and showcase your expertise. Content that is shared on LinkedIn is primarily business-related. Actively engage in threads; join focus groups and participate in discussions.
LinkedIn also has a blogging feature. Take some time to create and publish engaging blogs. Frequent blogging will help enhance your reputation and encourage people to reach out and establish a connection with you.
10. Reconnect with Old Contacts
Connections aren’t a one-time deal. It does not end once you’ve gained favor. Again, networking is all about building relationships. If you want a network of strong leads and referrals, you have to work toward building strong relationships.
Maintain relationships by finding the time to reconnect with old contacts. Invite them out for coffee or a quick lunch. Perhaps a round of golf or a few sets of tennis over the weekend. In some cases, a simple phone call to say “Hi” will do.
Networking is one of the most overlooked, yet important components of building a business. It is an activity that should never end. You should keep networking to keep your business growing. Every time you network is an opportunity to find a contact who can help take your business to the next level.
A strong network is one that has contacts who can consistently provide you with leads and referrals. It becomes dynamic; a self-sustaining network that continually looks for opportunities for others to benefit as well.
Effective networking is all about relationship-building. A strong relationship goes two-ways; it’s not always receiving, sometimes you have to give first. You should also be patient. Trust is an important trait of a strong relationship and it takes time to build trust.
Do you have interesting networking tips that you would like to share? Kindly post them in the comments section below. They may encourage other readers to reach out to you and establish a connection!
If you want to know more about networking and how digital marketing can help you build a strong following, please do not hesitate to reach out and contact us via phone or email.