The term networking has become a popular buzzword throughout the business world today. Popular as the term is, however, there is a lot of misunderstanding about it, how to network effectively, and where your time as a business owner is well spent in the networking arena.
The term networking actually refers to the building of a loose community of individuals bound by mutual trust and common interest. This doesn’t mean that everyone in a particular networking group necessarily operates in the same industry. In most cases, a business network usually goes beyond simple industry affiliations, with the common goal being to give participants an enjoyable method and place to let other business owners know what they do and seek out good, quality sources for goods and services. Most groups also function as a place to receive good insight into business practices and to learn from each other. By actively engaging in networking, you can expand your company’s exposure and exponentially increase the ability to secure work via referrals.
There are a variety of networking groups available in most towns and cities across the nation. Some of them are free to join, while others may require a membership fee. Probably the best way to find out what’s available in your area is to simply start asking other business owners that you know and see if they are participating in a particular group. Ask them if it’s an active group and if they see any potential benefit from you joining. Many groups also maintain websites, facebook pages, or twitter accounts too. If you don’t know anyone who is participating in a group, this may be the best method for you to locate groups close to you.
Once you’ve found a networking group in your area, we encourage you to employ the following tactics into your participation:
1. Be Authentic and Genuine
Trust is simply indispensable in effective networking and business networking is no different. If you want to succeed at it, you’ll have to gain people’s trust and, in order to do this, you have to prove to them that your intentions are genuine. This isn’t going to happen overnight and you’ll need to be intentional in your relationship building efforts. But, consistency and honesty will ultimately reward your efforts with good solid business relationships that will yield referrals for your business over time.
2. Set Goals
Beyond establishing trust, other goals need to be set. Once you’ve found a networking group that you want to invest your time and effort into, make it a point to establish some goals or benchmarks that you want to achieve as a result of your investment there. What are your overall goals? Why are you there?
3. Get Involved
This may be one of the harder steps for some folks. Simply attending a group isn’t going to result in achieving the goals you put together. Volunteering for duties in organizations and the business groups you belong to helps solidify your reputation and that trust factor we discussed in point number one. Working side by side with other business owners in the group allows you to get to know them a little bit better and it gives them insight into who you are. This goes a long way in developing referrals and a solid reputation among other business owners in your group.
4. Advance Yourself as an Authority in Your Field
Make sure that you can provide answers for people whenever they need it. Knowing the names of the various people in the organizations to which you belong is a very great way of establishing yourself in their minds. It is also very important that you develop a pool of knowledge on the areas of common interest so that you can be a positive resource during conversations, presentations, and round table meetings. As people start to recognize that you truly are skilled in your business, they will not hesitate to recommend you and your company to those that they come into contact with outside your networking group.
5. Be Proactive
Whenever you receive those sought after referrals, it’s an indication that your efforts have paid off and are being rewarded. It is imperative that you honor their acknowledgment by following up with the source of the referral. Again this goes a long way in establishing your overall reputation as a professional among those in your networking group.
Most importantly, be sure that you enjoy the time spent with your networking group. Finding a like-minded group of business owners to meet with on a regular basis and use as a source of accountability and encouragement is a great tool for you as a business owner. We hope that you’ll enjoy the process and find many of the tips we’ve shared with you useful as you begin your networking adventure.