I have learned in 25 years of working as an executive for a major corporation and now as an entrepreneur that networking is one of the most important things you can do to grow your business....whatever your role and whatever your business. I have yet to meet that person who truly loves "cold calling", although many will say they do. I was one of those people until I grew out of it and realized there was an easier more efficient way to do it. The phone (or in today's term, email or social media) feels a lot lighter when you are contacting someone you know.
I have put a quick list of essentials for networking that everyone should make part of their game plan:
- Figure out a way to make the relationship mutually beneficial. If you are always asking your contact for something and never giving, they will stop answering. It is critical that you understand how you can add real value to the relationship beyond them just buying your product or service.
- If you are trying to sell something, don’t make every contact about trying to do a deal. Send them an article you think they would like. Invite them to a social function where you do things other than just talk business. Find out what their real interests in life are and do something to support those interests.
- When you find someone you actually like, work to make them a friend. It took me a very long time to mix business with pleasure, but when you can, it is oh so sweet.
- Develop a manageable target list of contacts that would mean the most to your business, and work to develop authentic relationships with those people. Some people are skilled enough to have an endless list, but most of us can really only handle 15-20 of these key contacts.
- Find the right events, functions, and networking events where the people you want to be around attend. And have a game plan for what you want to accomplish at the function (# of people to meet, specific people to meet, etc).
- Be sure you are the one to follow up, and determine where you want to take the relationship. Many of us have the best intentions when we meet people and find a common bond. Very few of us follow up to foster the relationship.
- Use social media the right way. There is no right way to use social media except to use it. LinkedIn is the best we have for business social networking. You can find information you want on people, determine common contacts, get to know someone a bit more, etc. It is important not to get frustrated if people don’t respond to your invites or inquiries right away. Remember that you don’t know each other, and most of use will assume you are going to ask them to buy something (if you don’t know them). So make social media networking a part of your game plan but not all of it.
It is really not that hard to be a great networker. Actually, it is not hard to be one of the better networkers. What is hard is sticking to a game plan to accomplish your networking goals. When you do have a plan, it sure does make it a lot easier to be successful at it.