It’s one of the truisms of business that we all need to network, regardless of whether or not we’re looking for clients. We all know we need to do it, but very few of us actually do. How can you break the mold and actually accomplish that crucial, but occasionally daunting task of networking?
1. Schedule time to do it.
In the fast pace of staffing, it’s easy to neglect networking, possibly because it seems a little too much like socializing. But that’s like avoiding watering your crops because it seems a little too much like playing under the sprinkler. Networking is how you grow every aspect of your business, including your own individual professional development. It’s worth making time for. And that applies to both in-person and online networking: schedule your appearances at local networking events, and schedule some time to put into your online social networks at least once or twice a week.
2. Focus on the quality of your connections, not the quantity.
“He who has many friends has no friends” —Aesop
Which is better: having 2500 people in your network, almost none of whom know what you do, what your business does or what sets you apart; or having a few dozen people, all of whom can vouch for you and your business? When you do your networking, instead of trying to carpet-bomb an event with business cards, or connect online with anyone and everyone, focus on building genuine connections with a few people whom you can get to know. Focus on these people and learn them and their businesses, and they’ll be likely to return the favor.
3. Think in terms of giving (or at least exchanging) value, not in terms of what you can get.
Here’s another easy question: would you rather do business with someone who’s already helped you, or with someone who’s clearly out for themselves? Most people prefer the former, so strive to be that person as you network. So much of the help we can offer others comes at no cost to us: making an introduction, recommending a product or service, passing along advice. By helping others, you’re adding value to the relationship right out of the gate, and building a bond of trust and affinity that can pay off in many ways. Not only will you make points with the person you’re helping, but you’ll also build a reputation as a great person to get to know, which can attract more useful connections to you.
4. Follow up.
This is always the hardest part: after the networking event, or your allocated time on the networks, make a point of following up on the connections you’ve made or reinforced. If you’ve met someone new in person, ask to connect with them online. If you’ve connected with them online, send them a message to see how they’re doing and ask how you can help them. If you want to take it to the next level, check in with each person in your network every few months, whether you’ve heard from them or not. (This is where focusing on a few quality connections rather than a large, anonymous network can make things easier.)
What about you? How have your networking efforts gone? Are you great at helping out, but not so hot at the follow-up, or vice versa? Let us know in the comments!