Networking is a buzz word we all hear all of the time. Unfortunately for many business owners it evokes powerful images of standing around a room with a lot of people you don’t know, feeling awkward and unsure. Networking is really just an excellent way to build a business. It’s cheap, it’s instant and it doesn’t require a lot of exceptional skills.
Networking is about communication. Feeling awkward when meeting new people can be challenging but there are many simple techniques to make it easier. I learned a lot of my communication skills from a book I read at least once a year, How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie. The title sounds terribly manipulative but it really isn’t. It is a book about communicating and the lessons learnt from those pages can be used time and time again, every day of the week. The end result will be that you will become a better communicator and you will find networking much easier.
The next part of the process is to go to a networking function with a clear goal. Your aim here is to meet people who might be potential customers or who might be able to refer business to you. Consider a few things ahead of time. Think about how you will introduce yourself and what you sell. If you meet someone who could become a customer or business associate how will you arrange to follow up? How will you end the conversation so that you can move on and meet other people without offending the person you are talking to? I know some entrepreneurial types who sit down and write a networking plan before they go to these functions, and they get excellent results. It is a business opportunity, not a social event, and they treat it as such.
For me every time I meet someone is a networking opportunity. Sitting on a plane, buying something from a shop, sitting next to a person in a seminar and so on. We all have a opportunities to tell people about our businesses and to look for ways to work together.
Networking is here to stay. The better you are at it the more business you can attract. Go into any networking situation with an open mind and with a plan of attack.