Networking is not just about showing up and collecting stacks of business cards. Here are five simple facts that will improve your experience and help you achieve results.
1. People like to do business with people they like and trust
It's just simpler to do business with someone you know than a complete stranger. And for this reason alone, networking offers a real opportunity in business.
And while you may feel uncomfortable about formalised networking sessions, such as your personal networks, they offer you access to other business people who may grow to respect and like you, and who will increasingly feel confident in recommending you.
2. Trust does not grow in a single group contact session
There isn't much point in ‘trying out' a networking group for one or two meetings. Of course, it is possible that you find don't like the structure of the group, or feel that the profile of the members doesn't suit your business.
But if the profile is right, and your concern is that you feel like an outsider, that you don't know anyone - stick with it. Commit to attending for several months, and you'll find that your relationships with other members will develop.
3. Garbage in; garbage out
Like everything else, what you get out is entirely dependent upon what you put in.
Do you arrive late and leave early, your time grudgingly given to meetings? Or do you arrive in time to meet people before the formal session?
Do you participate in discussions, pay attention to how you might be of assistance to other members, or do you find it hard to disguise a lack of enthusiasm?
Do you prepare a short, relevant introduction to your business, or do you just wing it? Do you treat it like a business meeting, or view other members as strangers?
4. There is no prize for the one who collects the most business cards
(Or the one who gives away the most.) Networking is about developing relationships, rather than chasing a quick sale. And if you spend your entire session rushing around trying to meet as many people as possible, you are unlikely to have a real conversation with any of them.
5. It takes more than just showing up
It's not enough to simply attend networking sessions. Watch for opportunities to help, whether on sub-committees or with input when ideas or comments are solicited.
It's no surprise that the volunteer leadership of networking groups have wide networks. If your own network is smaller than you'd like (or particularly if it is), get involved and watch it grow.
Ann heads up Octarine, a marketing communications and advertising agency, where she focuses on copywriting and marketing strategies for clients in the professional and industrial sectors. Prior to that, Ann spent 15 years in marketing management for major companies including Unilever and Adcock Ingram before joining an ad agency.
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