Imagine if you had the key to attracting more customers, growing your business faster, and creating sustainable success in your personal and professional life. You do. It’s called Networking.
What is business networking?
So what is networking? The true definition of business networking according to powerhouse networking group Business Networking International (BNI) is this: “Networking is the art of building relationships. It boils down to this: people do business with those they know and trust. Networking is the act of increasing their business through a structured, positive, and professional “word-of-mouth” program that enables them to develop long-term, meaningful relationships with quality business professionals.”
Networking is about being authentic, unselfish, genuine and honest. The key to successful networking is to be a decent and honorable person even when you’re not networking. It’s about opening a relationship, not closing the sale. It’s the power of connection and the art of seeking long-term connections, not short-term gains.
This may be a bit of a foreign idea for some since so much of our business-related world is on-line these days. We speak to people on daily basis without ever feeling the boundaries of city, state and even country thanks to tools like Skype and Google Talk. But if you are a business professional, you need to cultivate the “offline” connection just as much as your “online” ones.
What’s the purpose and what are the benefits of business networking?
Face-to-face business networking humanizes your business and allows potential clients to peel back the layers and see the person behind the brand. Studies have shown that today’s super savvy customers are more likely to trust the word of a friend or a connection than a slick ad on TV.
Imagine yourself connected to a group 50+ like-minded individuals who were willing to refer their friends and family to YOU when the need arises. It would be like a super-sized Sales Team working for you and your business. It is estimated that the average person knows about 250 people. And each of those people knows, in turn, another 250 or so people. This means that for each new person you meet, you gain access to a potential pool of 62,500 people separated from you by just two degrees. That my friends, is networking.
Still unsure how networking can pay-off? Here’s an example: Josh and Joann go to the same networking meeting every week and have gotten to know each other and their businesses. Josh owns a vehicle graphics and sign company and created some signage for Joann for a project. Joann was so impressed with the speed and quality of his work, she recommends him to her brother-in-law Ron, who owns a fleet of delivery vans. Using Josh’s business card that Joann supplied him with, Ron calls Josh and ends up hiring him to rework all of his vehicle graphics. The end result for Josh is a several thousand dollar project, all due to a networking connection.
Practices to avoid while networking with business colleagues
What networking is not is the mass collection of business cards for your database in an effort to gain a sale. This is not “hit and run” marketing. Proper networking is something that takes time and effort to cultivate. Business professionals often mistake networking for the opportunity to do nothing but pitch themselves in order to get new leads. The reality is that true business networking is not an “all about you” mentality; it’s about what you can do for others. BNI’s philosophy for proper networking is simple; help others to succeed and you will be successful as well.
Business networking tips and tricks
To network properly, you need to get out of the cubicle! Or for you work-at-homers, get out of the house. Networking is a “contact sport” that can’t be done from behind a desk sending emails. There’s a reason it’s call “net-working” not “net-sitting.” You may feel your business does not apply to any sort of local connection, but don’t fall into that trap of incorrect thinking. When you meet a new person and create a business connection, not only are you now on their radar, you will be hypothetically connected to all their connections. You never know when someone in the same room or contact sphere as you may hold the key to a question you need answered, or a critical contact that has been eluding you.
The best way to “break the ice” and network with someone new is to genuinely express interest in their business, products, and services. A great example would be; “Hi, I am______ and my business is________. And you are?”
Best Practices for Business Networking
BE CLEAR: Introduce yourself clearly and concisely. This may seem really obvious, but sometimes it’s overlooked and done poorly. State your name and business, and then ask the same of others.
BE SPECIFIC: When describing your business try not to say, “My business web design.” A better choice would be “I design websites for coaches, speaks and trainers who want to market their brand and sell their products.”
BE CREDIBLE: Prepare and memorize an “elevator speech.” Elevator Speeches are a 45 second opening statement that quickly and concisely tells the listener who you are and what you do.
BE REAL. Be yourself. There is no substitute for authenticity.
BE PREPARED: Have business cards ready. Even in this age of on-line professions, business cards still reign supreme as a way to spread your brand and help busy business professionals remember you and your business.
Business networking opportunities and organizations
Research networking groups in your area and take note of their guidelines, numbers, and structure. Find a group close to your business location and ask to be able to come as a guest. Bring business cards and be ready because you are about to tap into a whole pool of proactive business people.
Networking is just like the Nike’s slogan…Just Do It. It doesn’t have to be calculated, manipulative, or strategic but it does need to be genuine.
Sometimes, to move forward on your dreams, you need to take a chance, and be ready to do so!
Written By Rebecca Flansburg