Networking. The overwhelming majority of business leaders and owners flinch at the thought of it. Another group gets really excited about it, but may not be achieving as much as they can from the process. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, it’s important for all business leaders and owners to build professional networks of associates who can share experiences and guide each other towards success. So what can you do to make networking easier and more effective for you?
What is the purpose of networking?
While it may seem common sense, it’s important to consider this before moving on to strategies. Networking isn’t just about meeting other people who do the same thing you do. It’s about developing a support system of colleagues that can provide you with support and advice to help you excel at your job and vice versa. It really is like have a professional ‘friend.’
The best professional networks include individuals who truly enjoy having conversations about work challenges and are intrinsically interested in helping each other succeed. They become colleagues who are comfortable contacting each other with business questions and seeking professional advice. With a strong support system, it’s easy to get recommendations for software systems, brainstorm ideas to increase revenue, solve compliance issues, or even find new employees.
With so much upside, what goes wrong?
The first tragic flaw happens when people go into networking as an activity to be completed. We’ve all done it, too. “I’m headed to a networking dinner tonight, and my goal is to trade 10 business cards before dessert.” This methodology is often taught as part of basic business skills classes as a way to push people outside of their comfort circles and talk to people they don’t know. Unfortunately, the result is typically awkwardness resulting in further discomfort as the next event approaches.
The second big mistake is not having a specific purpose for networking. Again, this often happens at those popular “networking events.” You see these all the time from industry associations or as part of training conferences. People attend with the goal of talking to random people they don’t know and exchanging contact information for no particular reason other than to have another friend in the industry. This isn’t a complete waste because sometimes you do make great connections—it just isn’t very effective and again, it can feel awkward.
So what can you do? How do you network effectively?
- Set your perspective. Stop saying “networking” and start thinking, “I’m going to meet people who can help me solve my problems.” Before you launch into networking, make a list of the top problems on your plate right now—what keeps you up at night.
- Get ready to listen. If you are attending a networking event, be prepared to introduce yourself and chat with people, but make your goal to listen for clues that the person may be able to help you with one of those problems. It’s better to have one meaningful conversation with someone about how their online shopping portal has made up for lost foot traffic during the pandemic than to walk away with 10 business cards in your pocket.
- Ask to be introduced. Networking doesn’t have to feel like a cold-call. It is completely appropriate and helpful to ask another leader in your organization or a member of your network to introduce you to other people they know who might be able to provide you the advice you need. A first meeting that includes your “connector” colleague can help get the conversation started more smoothly, establish trust faster, and create a comfortable atmosphere for everyone.
- Don’t limit yourself. Consider any face-to-face time with a “stranger” as an opportunity to broaden your business support system. You may likely find people that can help you solve problems at a volunteering event, school PTA meeting, Cub Scouts Event, or hosted fishing expedition. The more people you get to know, the more likely you are to identify people who should be in your support system.
- Surround yourself with opportunities. Look for business or community-related events that focus on issues or causes important to you. Plus, if you’re having fun or are feeling really engaged in your contributions, you’re more likely to attract people who want to get to know you. Becoming involved with the local chamber of commerce, workforce association, or taking on a role as a non-profit board member will place you in repeat presence of other business leaders who are likely to have experience you can gain from.
- Be real. Remember that people enjoy working with people they like. Approaching conversations with authenticity, having a genuine interest in the other person, and sharing who you are will help to build a real business relationship that you will feel comfortable coming back to later and vice-versa.
When you partner with us, you broaden your network instantly.
A benefit of working with Paradux Media Group as your marketing agency is that you have a team of experienced professionals on your side to make your job easier. We are committed to your success. Our network includes businesses and associations small to large both locally and nationwide. Simply contact us today and let’s discuss how we can help your business achieve success. Come join the pond with us!