Here’s a question for you: how effective are your business networking strategies?
I’m regularly surprised by the number of business owners who don’t fully understand what networking is, and how critical it can be to the success of their company and reputation. Unfortunately, for a myriad of reasons, many business owners give up on their networking efforts all too soon; I’ll often hear clients say “I got nothing out of it” when I enquire about the groups they’ve joined or events they’ve attended.
But like any strategy you decide to implement to improve your business, networking takes effort – and time!
Let’s examine what ‘networking’ involves. I think Wikipedia describes it best as, “A type of business social network which is developed to help business people connect with other managers and entrepreneurs, to further each other's business interests by forming mutually beneficial business relationships.” The key to this definition is in the word ‘relationships’. The objective of any networking activity must be the building of a trusted relationship with another person so that you’re provided with the opportunity to refer work to each other and advocate for each other’s business.
But as the old saying goes, people generally don't get married after their first date - and I believe the same applies to networking.
There are many business owners or business development managers that look upon networking very simply. Their aim is to join a group that will provide them with plenty of referrals without having to invest a lot of time or money, with the exception of the membership fee. These people will typically find they receive few - if any - referrals and subsequently choose to leave within a few months of joining.
And then there’s those that join as many groups as they can in order to expose themselves to as many opportunities as possible. But quantity doesn’t mean quality and these people may find they receive few referrals; they’ve spread themselves too thin and are unable to build a base of trusted business colleagues. Individuals in this category may also be viewed upon somewhat suspiciously by other networkers as their intentions are quite clear: they’re in it purely for the referrals and uninterested in returning the favour.
But good networking practice can offer business owners many benefits, granted they’ve joined the right group and have the attitude to match. In addition to referrals there’s the potential to grow and develop both professionally and personally and receive invaluable business education from a diverse database of business contacts.
Those that do participate in effective networking will also know that it’s not about the volume of people in their contacts list, but the quality of those partners. Eight of the ‘right’ network partners will be more likely to give you referrals than 30 who are ‘wrong’. When determining the suitability of your partners, consider their interest in working with you and if they have a quality database of clients you can meet at an opportune point in time. This may or may not be at the exact stage your services are needed; in fact, if there’s opportunity to meet them before they require your support the relationship you form will be genuine, ensuring when your services are called upon the loyalty is already there.
Successful networkers will also realise that for it to work, the situation needs to be reciprocal. You need to provide your network partners with opportunities to meet your clients and be proactive in promoting their services. While you may find for a while you’re doing all the referring, if you’ve invested enough time and effort into your relationships you will see referrals start to flow. Bear in mind that initially the opportunities will start out small, typically to see if you can deliver what you say you can. If you’re able to provide the services they expect, work should in turn increase. As the saying goes, “What goes around comes around”, and sooner or later work will flow back and forth between your small group of trusted network partners.
You may discover that meetings with two to three network partners and one or two clients or associates will usually present opportunities for at least one person at that meeting. But there is no set formula to this, and it’s important to understand that effective networking takes time. The right opportunities will present themselves when you’re ready for them, and like all things in business, networking requires practice – and patience! Sometimes an opportunity may not eventuate for a number of months or even years, but if you nurture and support your relationships you will see referrals. Plus, you’ll benefit from learning from others along the way and may even see yourself becoming a mentor to business owners who are just starting out. And how might they repay you down the track? Through referrals, of course!
It’s what we put in that determines what we get out of something, and if you’re out there treading the network boards and find you’re getting nowhere - perhaps it’s not only the groups that are letting you down, but your own attitude towards networking? Just some food for thought.
Hopefully these tips will put you on the right track to successful networking. As a business owner myself, I have spent many years growing my contact database and am proud to say my relationships are stronger than ever. So if you’d like any further advice on how you too can effectively network, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.