People often tell me how much they dislike networking. Many admit that they struggle to do it well and find the process of securing business opportunities from their network haphazard and unpredictable at best. I agree – most of the activities associated with networking are vague and unfocused. So how do you network effectively, with purpose and ultimately to mutual benefit? Here are just a few ideas…
- If you are going to get to know someone, or ask to have a coffee/information meeting with them, consider – whats in it for them to know you? Why should they take time out of their day to meet you?
- What projects/challenges have you dealt with in the past and that you now have experience in which could make their lives easier?
- What can you do to help them with their business challenges (to do this you need to ask and understand what their business challenges are)
- What can you do together to develop business for both of you (joint ventures, key account planning etc.)
- How can you promote their services to your clients and vice versa (have a supply of their cards and demonstrate willingness to hand them out)
- How can you repay them for referred work? (reciprocal referral, payment in kind – free advice etc.)
- Are there opportunities for you to work side by side on a shared project or interest, and earn their trust
- Are you able to facilitate an introduction to a potential client or good contact.
- Let them know explicitly what sort of contacts, referrals, introductions you would like and learn this about them
- Don’t try to buy your network (through sports, entertainment etc.), earn it. No matter how much they like you – your contacts must still admire and respect your work for them to feel comfortable entrusting one of their own hard-won relationships to your hands through a referral.
- If someone does provide you with a piece of referred business, be sure to keep them in the loop as the new relationship develops and let them know the ultimate outcome. By doing so, you are continuing to earn their trust and confidence in your professionalism.
- If you find a networking relationship has gone too far into a social setting/friendly basis then get it back on a business setting by suggesting to meet them at their offices or asking them for their professional opinion on something. Show interest in their current work projects and challenges. If they suggest lunch – suggest a working lunch at their office to return it to a business footing.
Networking is not about making friends – but it is about influencing people and demonstrating your professional credibility/earning their trust so that they wish to refer business to you. I can’t promised that you will learn to love networking, but doing some of the above will help give a little more direction and purpose to your meetings with new contacts. And as they say – “you never know where it might lead…”