5. Seek relevant groups and connections
Identify target groups and connections which are relevant to your aims and capabilities.
The more relevant your targeting of groups and contacts, then more useful your meetings and referrals will be.
Direct your targeting beyond obvious business people and obvious networking groups, but be mindful of the nature of the group, and conduct yourself appropriately.
Clear agreement and purpose to produce business referrals for each other, and
where a group has no significant aim or expectation of referring business.
Be aware of the group’s needs, expectations, rules (official and unofficial), and membership composition (formal or entirely random), and adapt your style and methods accordingly.
Certain non-business professional people can be hugely influential in networks, and greatly trusted because of their neutrality and professional standing – educators and scientists, for example. Journalists, surgeons, and magistrates, also. There are many others. It is not easy to make connections with these people through conventional business networking, but remember that a network is not only made of business-people, and be awake to these non-commercial connections when the chance comes.
If you find that your networking is producing very low opportunities for follow up and referral, try to improve your targeting. Find different groups and methods, in other words.
So don’t go aimlessly after every networking opportunity which comes your way; instead try to find networks which already function well or have the potential to do so; and consider and decide which sort of groups and contacts will be most helpful for your aims and capabilities – ideally remembering that you need to be able to help them, as well as they should be able to help you.
6. plan your networking – know what you want – manage it
All projects need managing. Business networking is a project, and so it needs managing. You can use various tools to manage your networking.
You must manage your networking, or it will manage you.
Some people plan with shapes and connections on a big sheet of paper. Others prefer a spreadsheet. Use whatever you find comfortable.
Be able to plan and monitor your networking activities.
It is important to know exactly what you want, because you will be asked – very directly by powerful potential contacts – and you will need to give a clear answer.
An activity which has no clear planned outcomes is liable to be pulled in all sorts of unwanted directions.
As with any project, you will only move towards your aim when you keep focused on that aim.
If you don’t know what to plan, then probably some research is necessary:
In terms of evaluating and choosing a potential networking group – especially a big on-line community – investigate the tactics that successful members are using. Ask a leading member for pointers. This will help you assess the group’s relevance to your needs and strengths.
You will save yourself from attending time-wasting events, and registering with time-wasting websites, if you do some research before committing valuable time to deeper involvement.
A plan is vital because business networking can be a very time-consuming activity.
Have some targets and measurables, and monitor results.
A structured approach can be especially important for very sociable net-workers.
Business networking can be a very enjoyable activity, and for some people can seem a lot more productive than it actually is, so stay mindful of business results and cost-effectiveness.
The framework can be extended to manage specific follow-ups.
The example above doesn’t necessarily suggest you begin with three groups, or limit your business networking activities to three groups.
A sensible start might be to pick one business networking website, and one face-to-face business networking group or event, and see how you do before increasing the activity.
As you will see from the sustained focused effort point, business networking works best when it is attacked in a concentrated way. If you take on too many groups and websites at the same time you will be spread too thinly, and find it difficult to make an impact in any of them.
7. Follow up your commitments and promises
There are two main reasons for the importance of following up:
Networking only produces good results when it is followed up.
Following up with contacts builds trust, reputation, and relationships.
Put negatively, to emphasize the points:
Net-workers who meet people and never follow up are wasting their time.
Net-workers who never follow up will eventually become known as time-wasters.
Follow up is a matter of relevance and commitment: If a contact or referral is not relevant, then say so, which avoids any expectation of follow up.
If there is relevance, follow it up, in whatever way is appropriate for the situation.
If you find that you are not wanting to follow up meetings and referrals because of lack of relevance then you can re-examine your group targeting strategy. You might be chasing the wrong groups and connections, and could need to redefine these issues.
8. Be a positive influence-Be positive.
Use positive language. Smile. See the good in people.
Be known as a really positive person. It rubs off on others and people will warm to you for being so.
Keep your emotional criticisms of others and personal hang-ups to yourself.
Speak ill of No-one.
Be passionate and enthusiastic, but not emotional or subjective.
Avoid personalizing situations. Remain objective.
Seek feedback and criticism about yourself and your ideas from others. It is the most valuable market research you can obtain – and it’s totally free.
Be tolerant. Be patient. Be calm and serene – especially when others become agitated.
Followers gather around people who remain positive and calm under pressure, and who resist the herding tendencies of weaker souls.
At many networking events and situations you will have the opportunity to give a presentation to the assembled group. This is a wonderful chance for you to demonstrate your expertise in your specialist area, your positive confident character, and also to pass on some useful information
You will sell yourself best by giving helpful information in a professional and entertaining credible manner.
Be confident, positive and enthusiastic, but do not let this develop into pressure on the audience, or a sense of your trying too hard.
9. Apply sustained focused effort.
Business networking is a form of marketing.
All forms of marketing benefit from strongly focused activity, which is necessary first:to create awareness, and then
to build relationships to the point when a sale can be made.
A given amount of effort will produce much greater results when applied consistently in a strongly focused way, than the same amount of effort spread over several wider activities, especially if spread over time too.
This especially applies to business networking websites, where occasional light involvement has little impact, but focused continuous efforts can achieve a visible profile and build very many connections.
The same principle applies to local networking clubs, where occasional participation rarely penetrates the usual inner core of members, but regular enthusiastic involvement inevitably gains attention.
You should also be continuously open to unplanned networking opportunities, which can arise at any time. Business people are mostly normal human beings just like you. They have social lives, they travel, go to shops, sports events, restaurants, pubs, concerts, etc., and do lots of other things that you do too, quite outside of work. Paths can cross in the most unexpected places. You will find and develop connections in these unplanned situations if you:
*make eye-contact with people and smile
*take the initiative
*generally adopt an open friendly approach to everyone and always carry a pen and some business cards
Thereafter in all cases – planned and unplanned – much depends on what you offer to your connections – again see help others.
Business networking clubs and websites are full of people with many connections but little of value to offer, and they achieve poor results. Good results come instead from being friendly and open, from taking the initiative, from working hard at sustaining genuinely helpful contributions wherever you meet people.
If you treat networking like an occasional or purely social club it will not produce good business results.
Business networking requires sustained effort to make things happen.
Sustained focused effort does not mean delivering a full-blown sales pitch to every person you meet, and plastering your brochures all around the hotel lobby. Sustained focused effort means working hard to become a regular active helpful presence in the group.
Build relationships first, your reputation next, and referrals and introductions will follow.
10. life balance
A healthy balance in your life – work, pleasure, business, social, etc – promotes and gives off a feeling of well-being, which is helpful for networking in many ways:
you will be at ease and relaxed, and this transfers to others
you will be able to engage and respond in lots of ways with lots of people
your life balance will project confidence, which fosters confidence in others
you will demonstrate that you are in control of yourself and your business
people will buy or refer you as a person – not just your business specialism
This particularly applies to referrals and introductions, in which your character reflects directly on the person referring or introducing you.
Being a balanced person enables low stress and a feeling of assurance, which are very useful characteristics in business networking situations, and particularly so if you have aspirations to become a leading member of any of the networks you aim to work with.
Measuring or defining life balance is not easy, but we know it when we see it in others, and we respond to it.
Having good life balance contributes directly to the level of faith people have in you.
And crucially, life balance gives you the strength to absorb problems, to care for others, and maintain vital qualities like integrity, dependability, compassion and humanity.
Conversely when our life slips out of balance for any reason, we have less to give. We have lower reserves of enthusiasm, energy, tolerance, understanding and consideration for others – all essential for growing and maintaining a successful business network.
This prompts an incidental ‘lifestyle’ tip – for business networking events where alcohol might be available: drink in moderation and keep a reasonably clear head. This is not to say that you should reject all local customs where drinking is involved. In many social business events, including many foreign situations, drinking and eating are a very significant part of relationship-building. Use your judgment. Alcohol to a degree certainly helps many social processes, but taken to extremes tends to be counter-productive.