While networking cannot replace solid relationships that are built over time, it is an effective way to begin those relationships. With each new person you meet, your network expands to include their contacts as well. And, since most of us tend to prefer doing business with people we know, being introduced to a new contact by someone in your network is a great way to grow your client base. Along with repeat clients, referrals are the lifeblood of most businesses – and networking is a key strategy for developing your referral business while building your new business.
These days, everyone networks, so it’s unlikely you’re new to the game. However, even the most seasoned professional can use a few tips to keep them off the bench and their business on the winning side.
Focus, focus, focus.
When you meet new people, whether as a part of your business, through a professional organization or just in the course of your day, it’s important to keep in mind what you can do for them. Focusing on their needs first and foremost helps you recognize opportunities where you may be of assistance to that particular contact. Perhaps you can refer business to them or share some knowledge regarding one of their prospective clients. Either way, the more helpful you prove to be – or even attempt to be – the more likely that person will think of you first when they need something from a business like yours. Even if you don’t see an immediate return on your efforts, have patience; eventually it will pay off.
Use technology to your advantage.
Thanks to new technology, keeping track of networking contacts has never been easier. Current software enables you to create databases of contacts that can be updated frequently with information on each person. Rather than jotting pertinent facts on the back of your contact’s business card, you can now enter this information into a database like Microsoft Outlook “Contacts” that can help you sort them into categories and then be synched-up with your handheld electronics so you can have this information at your fingertips. Attending a cocktail party and need to refresh your memory on a few guests? No problem! Simply retrieve the info and impress the contact with your knowledge of their spouse’s name and occupation.
Ask a professional.
Join professional organizations specific to your field, but don’t ignore general professional organizations like your local Chamber of Commerce. This “indirect networking” method helps you take advantage of associations whose members are varied and is an excellent way for you to build your contact list.
In addition to increasing the number of people you may do business with, building your network in this way also allows you to learn more about your existing contacts, which in turn helps you make smarter business referrals. And, since a bad referral can come back to haunt you, it’s important to take any opportunities available to get to know the people you’re referring. This way, you’ll be more comfortable the next time you recommend one contact to another. Remember, a strong, successful network is built on solid relationships that you develop over time. Indirect networking is a great way to do this.
Always be networking.
Keeping the lines of communication open with the people in your network is crucial. As important as it is to add new people to the network, it is just as vital that you keep in touch with previous contacts. Once you’ve developed a rapport with a contact, consistent follow-up helps to build the relationship by establishing a comfort level and keeping you in touch with their needs. This way, you’re in a better position to not only be helpful to them, but to remind them of your goals as well.