Speak to the movers and shakers of the business world and they’ll all tell you the same thing: networking is the key to success. If you want to take your business to the next level, it’s essential that you know how to build and leverage both new and existing relationships.
Whether you’re looking for external investment, new customers or greater visibility across the board, the following 7 tips will help you get there.
Commit Time to Social Networking
Social networking has become an essential cog in a business. Major companies such as KLM handle complaints on Facebook, restaurants and hotels often have dedicated staff members to deal with Twitter, and many business relationships start off via LinkedIn. Ignore social at your own peril.
If you want to network with the movers and shakers in the industry, you’re going to need to raise your social profile. Commit the time to craft your online persona and what you want your company to stand for online. Be professional, welcome a chat with others, and if you have time give some input on industry-related forums. You’d be surprised by how much new business you can generate in this way.
Businesses really underestimate the power of blogging. Don’t be one of that crowd. Blogging not only helps to raise your visibility in the search engines (and thereby reaching targeted leads for free!), but it also creates a hotbed for discussion.
Don’t make the mistake of simply blogging on the latest news. Boring articles about your most recent acquisition isn’t going to get anyone engaging with your content. Instead, think of topics that are helpful for your target market. Add value to your space, which reinforces your authority in your industry and in turn will give you more opportunities to network with potential clients.
Plan Your Schedule in Advance
Networking is often left as an after-thought, with deadlines and internal business issues taking the bulk of your attention. Next thing you know the year is almost over and you find that you’ve attended one measly event all year. And that’s not a good thing.
Plan your schedule in advance. Commit yourself to at least one speaking event per year or quarter. Publish a blog post and share it with your network at least once a month. Whatever it is that you can do to drive your visibility forward, ensure you do it on a regular basis by planning it in advance.
Time Your Pitch Just Right
If you want someone to buy into your business or product, don’t go in for the kill right off the bat. Time the process carefully and don’t come off as a sleazy salesperson that’s desperate to flog their wares. It’s just not the way it’s done.
Focus on how you can help the people you meet, rather than selling what you’ve got to offer. If you give people solid advice based on your know-how, they’ll trust you and there’s a greater chance they’ll engage you in the future.
Identify Your Relationship Aims
If you’ve never really thought about business networking before, you may want to go out there and talk to just about anyone you meet at an industry event. And while this may be a good thing at the start to get some practice in conversing, it’s not a good long-term strategy.
You need to identify your targets, as crudely as that may sound. Think about relationships you can establish that are win-win. If you can do business together in a way that both end up in profit, get talking. Remember, networking exists for a reason – to drive businesses forward.
Master Your Negotiation Skills
Networking events aren’t just places where you can establish connections, but many deals are often signed and sealed before the day is done. Good business is often done quickly, which means you need to be ready to negotiate quickly and effectively in settings that aren’t always what you’re used to.
That’s why it’s so important that you place some serious effort on your negotiation skills. As with anything, perfecting your negotiation skills requires both learning and practice. Enroll yourself on a course with a respected organization and get out there! You’ll never learn unless you implement the theory ‘out in the field’.
Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin
This is probably the most common mistake we see people make. They go out there and focus on quantity, not quality. But networking is not a numbers game, at least not exactly. It’s always better to nurture a small number of relationships rather than spreading yourself too thin. There’s no point going out there and talking to 500 professionals if none of them become meaningful relationships.
What you want to do instead is take a laser-focused approach about who you talk to, especially if you’re short on time. Ensure that people you talk to get proper attention, that you’re giving them something of value, and that you really care about the relationship you have with them. If you are only giving them bit-part attention while you wait to move to the next person, they’ll see straight through you.
About the Author:
Mary Ann Keeling is a freelance consultant and an experienced social media networker. She likes to spend her free time cycling and doing water sports with her friends. Connect with her on Twitter – @MaryAnnKeeling