How To Network – You’ve probably heard the saying “It’s not what you know but who you know” right? This is true in business whether you are an online entrepreneur or own a brick and mortar store. What if your business is solely online like that of a virtual assistant? Is offline networking still relevant? Of course it is important unless you never talk to anyone outside your computer screen.
Being prepared for a networking event can save you a lot of time. Knowing your intention before you step in the door will help you stay focused. With a business networking toolkit you will have everything you need to present yourself to potential business partners.
- 10 Easy Steps to Build Your Business Network
- Step 1: What is Business Networking?
- Step 2: Build Your Network
- Step 3: Contact Your Resources Daily
- Step 4: Find Out Where Everyone Is
- Step 5: Write Thank-You Letters or Emails
- Step 6: Create a Business flyer
- Step 7: Prepare a Question and Answer Sheet
- Step 8: Testimonials and Success Stories
- Step 9: Current Business Issues
- Step 10: Business Cards
- 21 preparation tips
- Set Your Intention for what you want to get out of the networking event
- 4 Magic Networking Words
- How To Network Online
- 5 Organic Online Networking Tips
- What to do with all Those Business Contacts
- How To Follow up With Network Leads
10 Easy Steps to Build Your Business Network
Step 1: What is Business Networking?
The first step to networking is to know what it is that you are doing. What is business networking? According to a definition on Wikipedia “Business networking is a socioeconomic activity by which groups of like-minded businesspeople recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities.” So, if it is a group activity you can’t be wasting away in your home office. You have to put on some real clothes and go meet people.
Step 2: Build Your Network
Before you go out and meet anyone you need to build a networking list. This list will consist of people you know like friends, relatives, former employers or supervisors, classmates and neighbors. You can make a spreadsheet, as you’ll be referring to this list often. You’ll want to list the name of the resource, their contact information like their phone number, address, and email. As this is for offline networking you don’t necessarily have to list the social networks they belong to.
Step 3: Contact Your Resources Daily
You should have a pretty decent list by now, about twenty-five or more contacts. Your next step is to contact them. You might want to create a contact form to track your activity. It should include the name of the person or organization, the address, phone number, email, who referred you, when you contacted them, what you discussed, follow-up activities and any referrals they gave you.
Each day you want to contact at least 10 people. Make it your goal to get 2 new referrals from each contact. With these referrals try to make 2 face-to-face meetings each week.
Step 4: Find Out Where Everyone Is
There are a number of places to meet potential businesspeople. You can try your local chamber of commerce, check local meetups, ask around at social clubs and churches or see what other home based business owners are doing in your area. The local coffeehouse is always a neutral meeting ground for quick meetups. If you’re nervous about meeting someone new try to plan out what your goal is first. Pre-plan some questions and remember that you are building relationships, not selling anything.
Step 5: Write Thank-You Letters or Emails
Just as if you had a regular 9 – 5 job it is polite to send a quick thank-you to your referral and to the contact that referred you to them. Again a form might help you keep track of who referred whom so that this will be fairly easy for you. A good habit to get into is to keep the thank-you notes in your car. This way as soon as the meeting is over you can write a quick note and send it off in the mail. Alternatively you can also send a quick email thanking them for their time via your smart-phone.
Business networking can be very beneficial to you but it can also benefit those you are connecting with. Keep in mind that you want to listen more than talk. Try to grab at least 3 points of interest per contact. Finally, be sure to ask them how you might help them meet their goals.
Step 6: Create a Business flyer
A flyer that includes your mission statement in 1 – 2 sentences along with your contact information can be an asset during large networking events. Staple a business card to the top if necessary. Remember to concentrate on the people with whom you can truly develop a relationship.
Is your site mobile-ready? If so, make sure you add a QR code to your flyer. This way they can instantly see what you are all about. It also makes it easier to send a quick thank you or set up a meeting after a gathering.
Step 7: Prepare a Question and Answer Sheet
Having a question and answer sheet prepared before you attend an event will help you stay focused on your purpose which is to gain quality contacts. You want contacts that can help your business move forward. At the same time you want to find ways in which you can refer people effectively that will benefit them.
Some sample questions might be:
- What type of customer are you looking for?
- What do you want or need from me?
- How can I help you move forward?
Preparing your answers to these questions ahead of time will put you ahead of most businesspeople.
Step 8: Testimonials and Success Stories
Have a copy of testimonies and success stories of clients who have used your service or product. This will add legitimacy or proof to the effectiveness of what you do. It is also a great resource to have after presenting your business elevator speech or 30 second “about me” speech. Upon hearing the speech and piquing their interest you can present real-life examples.
Step 9: Current Business Issues
Staying current on your industry is a must. When attending a networking function having a small list of what’s hot in your niche can be useful for conversation starters and for input from your peers. Knowing how a certain trend is affecting others can be valuable. It can help you improve your own business and help them with theirs.
Step 10: Business Cards
It might not need mentioning but remember to bring your business cards. You would be surprised how many businesspeople forget this necessary tool. Before an event review your current business card. Does it have the essential information? Name, Contact Information, Purpose & Offer, Your Logo – If not you might need to update them before the event.
Prepare the tools for your business networking kit ahead of time so that when you attend an event you will be ready to network effectively. Be sure that you update these tools when necessary. Remember, too, that a contact made is not really useful until you follow-up. After the event, take time to sent thank-you notes either via snail mail or email. Enter the contacts into your networking spreadsheet or address book so that when a potential client needs a service that you don’t provide you can refer one of your new business colleagues.
21 preparation tips
It’s time for your networking events and you’re getting nervous about being in a room filled with people you don’t know. What do you say? When should you pitch your speech? Should you shake their hand first or wait for them to offer their hand?
First, take a breath. Relax and know that many are just as nervous as you are. Remember you are first a person and then a business owner. If you keep in mind that this mixer is an opportunity to get to know people instead of getting your next sale then you will be much better off.
Try and balance speaking with listening and above all stay focused on your goal, which is to connect with people who can help you move your business forward.
- Be interested in the conversation – you will be bombarded by a number of people who will introduce themselves to you, hand you business cards and pitch their products – take time to concentrate on the conversation, don’t let your eyes glaze over with boredom.
- Smile – sometimes when nervous people forget to smile.
- Maintain eye contact – with the noise level in the room, the drinks and other activities it is important to maintain eye contact.
- Ask about them & their niche – people love to talk about themselves and they love talking about their business or product even more. Write yourself little notes if it is a person you want to remember.
- Be assertive – this is no time to be shy. Fake it if you have to but stand your ground and show that you believe in yourself and your business.
- Speak up – nervousness causes our voices to squeak or soften – be sure you speak up when conversing with your peers.
- Be selective when choosing whom to talk to – there are going to be a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds, if your business is baking you don’t want to spend your time with someone who is an IT expert.
- Know your intent before going – what is your purpose? Connect. Follow Up. Develop Partnerships.
- Concentrate on quality contacts not quantity – the purpose of the networking event is to connect with businesses that compliment yours so that you can build each other up not about how many business cards you can collect.
- Exchange business cards – upon introducing yourself, give your contact information.
- Follow up immediately – immediately after write those thank you notes. Mention the event, remind them who you are and what you talked about and set up a follow up meeting.
- How can you build their fan base & community? – Ask them what you can do for them to build their community – this helps you identify what services to offer them or what referrals, if any, you can give them.
- What skill can you teach them? – This goes with asking them about their niche and how you can help them grow their fan base – identify a skill you have, it could be speaking, interviewing for a podcast or allowing them to guest blog.
- Don’t be pushy – relax, don’t push your product or service. I know it is a networking event but believe me, people at these events want connections to grow their business not more products. You can say your 30-second pitch but only after they ask for more information after your introduction.
- Introduce your brand & key product – in a concise sentence introduce yourself and your brand highlighting your key product
- How can your product meet their needs? – They’ve told you about their niche and what they need to move forward now write down a note about how your product will meet their need. (Preferably on the back of their business card) This is not the time to throw your pitch at them.
- Shake hands – shake hands at the same time you are introducing yourself. This gets it out of the way and is also an icebreaker.
- Tweet a shout out – Just had a great conversation with someone? Tweet about it. Mention their business and how excited you are about getting to know them.
- Connect with at least 5 people – You’ll meet way more people than you can possibly get back to. Concentrate on connecting with just 5 people that you know can be a potential partner. These will be the ones you follow-up with for future meetings.
- Show confidence – You can be all tied up inside but show confidence on the outside. Practicing your questions before hand and really knowing who your ideal partner or client is will help.
- Be human – This is self-explanatory right? Remember you are dealing with humans not numbers and sales.
A networking event’s purpose is to connect you with potential business partners and mentors not to get you sales. Stays focused on your goals and use the 21 tips above to reap many rewarding partnerships.
Set Your Intention for what you want to get out of the networking event
1. Know Who You Are and Sell It
Before you go to your next networking social you might take these snippets of advice.
- First, interview yourself. Get to know who you are so that you will connect with the right people.
- Second, get into your customer’s shoes. Why should they hire you? Finally, be prepared with your own question for the customer.
Interviewing yourself is an exercise that will benefit you immensely in networking. A couple of questions to ask yourself are:
- What are your strengths?
- What would your last client say about you?
- And what is one of your weaknesses?
How will knowing the answers to these questions help you?
First, it will highlight what your key benefits are to your client. Knowing what you offer, why you offer it and how you offer it under pressure is important.
10 Words to could use for describing your strengths:
2. Now that you know who you are take the time to get to know your ideal customer.
- Who are they?
- Are they college age or middle age?
- Are they female or male?
- What type of job do they have?
- Why do they need your service or product?
- What qualities would their ideal company have?
When you compare your interview with that of your ideal customer’s – do they match up? If they do, you are on the right track. If they don’t, you either don’t know your ideal customer well enough or you are marketing the wrong product. Knowing your similarities or differences before a networking event is valuable because you can take the time to alter or enhance your product or service.
The last step before attending your next network gathering is to prepare your own set of questions for your contacts. This is how you find out whether they are a fit for you. Remember, just because it is a networking event doesn’t mean you have to do business with everyone you meet. Be highly selective in the people you choose to do business with because your brand is at stake.
Some questions you might ask of network contacts are: if you have a very successful 2012, what would that look like? Or what keeps you up at night? Knowing the answers to these two questions will tell you a lot about a person. First it will tell you how they interpret success and finally, it will tell you how they interpret their weaknesses. Knowing these two things will prepare you for a possible business relationship.
Networking isn’t difficult; you just need to know what you want in a business relationship and go after it. Don’t settle for just anyone as a client. Although the reason you are in business is to make a living don’t let that cloud your business sense. Only if you can communicate and meet each other’s goals can you truly develop a lasting partnership.
3. Play Fair
This means not cheating. Don’t use shortcuts that harm your friends or cheat them out of their rewards. When networking for your business always be fair –don’t ruin it for everyone else.
4. Be Kind
Kindness matters. Kindness is shown in a number of ways one important way is with gift giving. Kindness dictates that you return the favor when they need help. Networking is an interpersonal relationship. You bounce things off of each other and respect each other enough to stay civil.
When you share with people who want to know what you are upto it is a good thing. However, when you could care less it gets to be a bit annoying. Email doesn’t own the market on Spam; sometimes you get it via phone calls, text messages, at meetings, groups and even church. Scale down your pitch, limit it to just under 2 minutes and only share it with those who are truly interested – they will ask.
6. Help Out
Initially you might help because it benefits you but eventually you’ll help because you are reciprocating the help you receive from your friends. It’s kind of like a dance. Each of you participate in assisting each other out.
Think how this would look if you had a special circle of business contacts where you could help each other move forward in business. It would be great right? This is what the heart of networking is. It is why many successful entrepreneurs are part of mastermind groups. It’s not an “I’ll pat your back, you pat mine” relationship rather it is truly knowing your circle so well that you want to help them succeed.
7. Visit Your Neighbors
You can’t expect to receive all the time without giving. Part of business networking is caring enough to meet up with your fellow business owners. Chat over a cup of coffee, attend conferences together, or have a 5-minute conversation on the phone. Don’t push a sale on them rather find out what they need to move forward. Maybe your associate needs to delegate a task but doesn’t know where to start. You happen to know someone who caters to home business owners and hand over a recommendation. This is networking. It’s not about landing your next sale or next contract.
8. Work Hard
What’s the average time a gamer spends on sites like Facebook playing Farmville or Mafia Wars? It is serious business for them. The key point to take away from this is that business networking is work – it takes time to develop the kind of relationship you want and need to catapult your business into a money making machine. 5-minute encounters exchanging business cards and a sales pitch won’t work.
9. Show Up Often
You can’t expect to attend a networking event, collect a binder of cards and expect that “networking” be over. No, you must show up by actually contacting the people that benefit your business or that you can help move onward.
Call them, set up networking appointments, chat, send an email and write notes. Sometimes you’ll be lucky enough to meet someone that you feel an immediate connection to. All too often though, it takes work to build that relationship.
The skills that you learn from interacting with peers and being kind and helpful to others is what builds the kind of relationship you need to move your business forward.
4 Magic Networking Words
You’re at a networking event and you don’t know what to do, who to talk to or what to say.
Nerve wracking, isn’t it?
You could walk around asking, “So, what do you do?” Guess what – everyone is asking that, and everyone else is tired of answering the question.
When you start a conversation by asking what a person does, you are essentially saying, “So, is it worth my time to talk to you? What can you do for me?”
The person feels like they are at a job interview.
Instead, try this. As you meet them, lock eyes and then let a smile develop on your face.
By smiling after you lock eyes, you are telling them that you like what you see. If you are already smiling when you look at them, then you are smiling at the previous thing or person, not them.
It’s a psychological trick, but it works.
Look at them, catch their eye, and then let a smile grow on your face. Just like if you unexpectedly saw someone you really like.
Say hello, shake their hand if you like, make a comment about the venue, or the food, or whatever you need to break the ice.
And then say this:
“So, tell me about yourself.”
And then smile and shut up.
It will probably take them a moment to decide what to tell you about themselves. It could be anything they choose.
And that’s the beauty.
You are allowing them to have an audience where they can talk about anything they like – whatever is important to them.
You are interested in THEM. Not their business, or how much money they could make you if you got ahold of their mailing list or they promoted or your product or let you guest post on their blog.
You are simply interested in them.
Let them talk. Ask them a question if they pause, but otherwise just listen attentively.
They will think you are the most brilliant conversationalist in the entire room.
Congratulations – you’ve just made a new friend, and possibly someone you will do business with. Later.
How To Network Online
Building connections with other businesspeople takes time and effort. Your networking opportunities are no longer limited to local groups. With social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter you can build your network virtually.
It may surprise you but this whole networking online thing isn’t “all about you”. No, it really doesn’t matter how many people “like” you on Facebook if those people could care less about your service or product. Customer focused businesses still trump those focused on numbers alone.
Numbers aren’t all bad, they still tell you about how you are doing but they can’t be the focus. In gaining the numbers you don’t want to lose sight of your purpose, which is to build a relationship with your customer and like-minded businesses that nets positive word-of-mouth referrals.
Online networking has some benefits that offline networking doesn’t have. It allows you to stay in contact with your clients like never before. You can add status updates of various conferences, meetings or events where you’ll be located as they happen. You can offer a limited time discount on a whim. I.e. receive a free drink when you purchase a nacho burrito between 11am – 12pm
Another advantage of online networking is that it makes it easier for you to engage with your contacts. Allow positive and negative reviews on your Facebook wall. Meet the real-life needs of your customers by solving their problems right away in a very visible way.
You want clients to be comfortable with expressing their needs. Don’t stop there however; one of the greatest advantages of this medium is that you can make changes to how you are doing things from real-time customer feedback. I.e. if you posted a resource in error you can fix it, offer your apologies and a compensation gift at the same time.
Networking on Facebook
Facebook offers two ways in which you can connect with others online. You can create a fan page for your fans and customers. You can also create a group where you can engage with other businesses. On your fan page you want to keep updates about your daily business activities. You also want to engage in conversation with your fans by asking questions and sharing resources that benefit them.
In a mastermind group you want accountability, feedback, tips, resources and mentoring. Getting to know the niche customer of your peers will help you better understand whom to refer to them when the time comes. Sometimes though you just need a pat on the back and that’s okay.
Networking on LinkedIn
On LinkedIn you can engage with like minded businesses and mentors that can guide you into your next business milestone. Join groups with your peers, interact, share tips and resources and ask questions. If there isn’t a group that meets your specific needs, create one.
When networking online don’t focus on what someone can do for you, rather focus on how best you can meet their needs. Find out what the ideal customer is for each contact so you’ll know who to refer their way. You want to be the “go to” person when someone needs a referral.
Networking on Twitter
Twitter has turned into a long list of links and advertisements so don’t get lost in the shuffle. How will you stand out? You want to engage in conversation with your followers so they learn to trust your recommendations and click your resource. Without the trust you are just another advertiser or link junky.
Ask thoughtful questions that you really want an answer to. I.e. how was your Holiday Weekend? When your follower answers the question remember to thank them for taking the time to comment.
5 Organic Online Networking Tips
Online business networking is not only about finding followers and “likes” for your social network pages. It is more about making a connection. This works well if you have connected with people via online forums, Facebook Groups or other online communities.
How can you benefit most from your online networking efforts and outreach?
First, you want to build a relationship on mutual ground that both parties benefit from. Ask questions, get to know people, don’t pounce on them with the view to sell. Genuinely find out if you can help this person if you can then
Second, be clear about what you offer and how that helps others.
Third, if you can’t help don’t be afraid to give referrals to other businesspeople who can help them. Be the person that goes out their way to thank someone or offer someone a mentoring relationship.
Next, know the reason you are networking and don’t waver. There are many rabbit trails in the business world – put your “focus” glasses on and get to work. Finally, when networking online you need to open up the lines of communication. Ask open-ended questions to encourage conversation. Once you get the other person talking start actively listening so you know how best to meet their need.
1. Build Relationships not Sales
Networking is all about the relationship you build with your business peers. Get them talking about you in a positive way. Engage them in a discussion of current business practices. Reveal a little about who you are in real life. Try not to use the third person when talking; rather use your real name and the pronoun “I” instead of “we” and “our”.
Contribute valuable information to the conversation that will encourage sharing. Offer to help them build their business by guest blogging on your site or being interviewed for a podcast.
2. Give Over and Beyond What is Expected
There are some things that are expected in a business relationship like getting contact information, referring businesses to clients, supporting independent businesses and reviewing products and giving feedback. Go one up and offer your peers more than what is expected.
Instead of sending an email, see if you can send a handwritten card. Do what 90% of your business peers don’t – call them and set up a gathering to brainstorm ways in which you can support each other’s business.
3. Know Your Purpose & Stick to It
If you know why you are networking online you will waste less time. It might be helpful for you to write this down and place it at your desk. This way when you set aside time to network on social media or forums you are focused on what needs to be done instead of dilly dallying and wasting time. Setting a timer might be beneficial at first.
Having an accountability partner can also benefit you. Mastermind groups are great for this – connect with each other once a week and review your goals.
4. Ask Open-Ended Questions
Just as in face-to-face contacts you want to engage in conversation, your online relationships are no different. To do this try not to ask yes or no questions rather ask open-ended questions that will get people talking. Find out what they are looking for and how best you can serve them. Asking them about who their ideal customer is will help you make profitable referrals.
5. Be Interested and Listen Actively
You might not be able to look your contact in the eyes and smile online but you can still relay interest by actively listening (or reading) to what they have to say. Instead of working out your response listen for clues as to what is important to them. If you need to, write a couple of notes down.
Managing your online networking can be beneficial if you have a plan and incorporate it wisely. Remember to nurture relationships, listen attentively, ask questions to spark conversation, give more than is expected and above all know your purpose and don’t deviate from it.
What to do with all Those Business Contacts
You finally made it to a local networking event and met some contacts, now what? Assuming you connected with people that you can help or that help you, now you need a plan of action. Don’t wait until next week or next month to contact them. Make it a point right after your event to write a note to your new acquaintances. Be sure to set a time and date you will call or email them. Schedule it in your calendar and on your phone. You want to contact at least 2 people a day. Be sure to take notes when talking to them on the phone or in person.
After you contact them for the first time, set up an additional appointment. It doesn’t have to be for lunch, it can just be a brief phone call, a text message or even a short email. What you want to do now is find out the answers to the following questions.
What are your personal values? – Knowing this will help you stay true to your business mission and your personal goals. It will also help you identify these qualities in your prospective business associates.
What do you want from this contact? – Keeping your personal values in mind, what are you looking for with regards to working with this contact? If the relationship turns into a contract what will your pay be? How can you work together?
What does your contact want from you? It is important to note that a relationship goes both ways. It gives and it takes so at times you’ll be giving the support and assistance and at other times your contact will. How can your contact best be served through your business knowledge?
What can you offer your contact? What does your business do that will help your contact move forward in his or her business? Will you charge for this or will it be a mentoring relationship?
What can your contact offer you? What qualities does your contact have that your business can use to move forward in the next year or two? Will you pay for their service or can you work out a joint venture partnership where both parties get what they want?
Once you have the answers to all of these questions you’ll want to maintain a spreadsheet for this. You’ll create a section for each contact and periodically check up on them. Update your goals every quarter to make sure you are both still meeting each other’s needs.
Networking is something you should be doing as a regular part of building your business. You never know when someone you know will be the contact that brings about your next big contract or project. Don’t wait until you need to “network”, that is, when your client base is dried up. Maintain these relationships as though they are your friends and you will reap the rewards when the time comes for you to utilize their expertise in a job.
How To Follow up With Network Leads
Networking should be part of your monthly business activities. Whether you network online via social media or offline at events one thing is for sure, you need to write thank-you notes. Once you connect with someone and share information with him or her, especially if it was at an event or online webinar, you need to take the time to write them a little note reminding them who you are and what was discussed.
Before you get your stack of note cards out there are a few things you should always include. First, always add the date of the event. Second, restate your interest in becoming business partners. Third, re-emphasize how your skills will help them in reaching their goals. Fourth, set up another meeting or contact. Fifth, include your contact information. Sixth, be sure to send it within 24 hours of the event. Finally, be neat, to the point and take the time to handwrite your note.
Refer to the date of the event
Networking events are gatherings where you meet many different people. It’s hard to keep all the names, faces and businesses straight. Include the date of the event in your note to remind them when you met.
Restate your interest in becoming business partners
Hopefully you struck up a conversation and asked a number of important questions regarding their niche and their goals for their business. With this in mind remind them that you think a partnership with them sounds like a possible way that you both can build your businesses.
Re-emphasize how your skills will help
During your short conversation you probably mention your 30-second pitch which highlighted your skills and products. Reiterate those to remind them how you fit into his or her business goals.
Set up another meeting or contact
Choose a set time and meeting place for a follow-up. Even if it’s only via email or Skype, setting the date and time and then scheduling it on your calendar will give it a high priority.
Include your contact information
You probably exchanged contact information or business cards at the event but go ahead and include your information again. Networking events are a pool of information and you want to make it as easy as possible for them to contact you again.
Send it within 24 hours of the event
Get in the habit of completing your thank-you notes before leaving the parking lot or shutting your computer down. Also, put a stamp on it and place it in the mailbox. The sooner this is done the less procrastinating you’ll do.
Be neat and to the point
Don’t scribble some words of insincerity or write a long dissertation about how your partnership will skyrocket sales. Get to the point which is to set up a meeting; it is then that you can talk in more detail about ideas and plans you might have.
Handwritten is preferred (Where possible)
If at all possible don’t type or email your note of thanks. If your handwriting isn’t legible ask someone with excellent penmanship to write it for you. Keep it neat.
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