Small Business Networking: Network Effectively

The ability to create and maintain strong professional relationships is an important key to business success. Networking is the vital business skill that lets you cultivate lasting business relationships and create a large sphere of influence from which you can find new clients, contacts, referrals and opportunities.

These are the steps to cultivating long lasting business relationships:

  1. Clarify your objectives and then make a plan: you can’t form special relationships with everyone so you have to be selective.

  2. Go to business events, conferences, training days, exhibitions and any event where business people are gathered. You won’t build a lasting network from your office desk. A trade exhibitions website is a good events listing source.

  3. Be prepared when you go out to meet new people. Have your diary, business cards and literature with you and know what questions you want to ask. Start by asking them what their business does but also remember to listen. It’s only when someone else is talking that you find out anything new. Ask for their business card and then offer your card.

  4. Be a resource for referrals yourself. Be armed with contacts and useful information to give to others. That will encourage a two-way flow.

  5. Follow up quickly on new contacts either to give them the information or to arrange to meet.

  6. One goal of networking is to get referrals, so don’t be afraid to ask "Who else should I be talking to?"

  7. Regularly stay in contact with your network partners and re-establish contact with old relationships. A phone call will help to keep relationships going and include them on your newsletter mailing.

  8. Establish yourself as an expert in your field, perhaps by writing articles or by being available to talk to journalists. If you and your business are in the news, people will want to talk to you.

  9. Always network. Wherever people are gathered together is an opportunity to network. It doesn’t just have to be a business situation. Most people at weddings, on planes and in hotels have jobs! But subtlety is required, so build rapport first, then ask questions. Sign up to a few relevant online networking groups. These groups exchange ideas in online forums or via mailing lists. They often have ‘real’ events where you can meet face-to-face.

  10. Organise your network data thoroughly. Most people’s memories are not reliable and paper organisers are limited. Electronic organisers and databases are ideal for holding network data.

You can use a network for just about anything from finding a new source of supply to getting introductions to overseas sales agents. You can find a reliable bank manager, a new accounting software package that is right for your business or a great venue for your next business meeting. Your network contacts, unlike almost everyone else in the business world, are usually unbiased and authoritative. You should make few major decisions without recourse to network contacts.

Action Checklist:

  • If you don’t have at least 200 people in your network database then you don’t have enough. Start networking again
  • If you are still using a paper diary for network data, change over to an electronic organiser
  • Use your network to help with your next big decision
  • Attend your next trade event and aim to speak to at least 10 people

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