What do you need to do to make networking an integral part of growing your business?

Two of the most common questions I get asked about networking are:

How do I make networking work for my business?

Will networking help me grow my business?

… and of course, the two questions are inextricably linked, because the effort you put in relates directly to the results you get out.

So what do you need to do to make networking an integral part of growing your business?

The “Intangibles”

The way you present yourself and behave are absolutely critical when attending networking events so think carefully about the impression you make on fellow networkers:

• First up, smile and look pleased to be there

• Be professional – yes you may be having a non-work-related conversation but you are there representing your business

• Yes non-work-related conversations are absolutely fine – networking is all about building relationships, with all sorts of people. (Just because you don’t see someone as a potential customer doesn’t mean they can’t help your business – you have no idea who else they know)

• Conform with the way the meeting is run; if it is not for you then that is fine there are plenty of groups and sometimes you have to visit several before you find the one where you feel at home. But people will remember if you don’t behave in the accepted fashion at that event

• Focus totally on other people – ask about their business don’t tell them about yours

• If people ask about your business keep it brief and sound enthusiastic – enthusiasm is infectious and most importantly, memorable

Reading this back I realise that many of these points could simply be summarised as “Good Manners” but successful networking really is about thinking how you can help other people not what they can do for you so:

• Offer advice

• Introduce people who might work well together

• Share your knowledge and experience

• Look out for people on their own and go and talk to them

• When you do talk about your business explain the reasons why you do things in a certain way – build credibility

• Make proper recommendations i.e. explain why you think a particular person / business would be good for someone to contact

• Become known as the expert in your particular field

All this may sound like a lot of effort and yes, it is, but making a success of networking is not a quick and easy fix – you will not walk out of your first networking event with a handful of new business leads.

However, when you attend events regularly people will get to know you and your business. As you offer advice and demonstrate your knowledge and expertise other networkers will start to recognise your professional competence.

Combine confidence in your abilities with the “intangibles” that result in a feeling that you are a good person to work with and suddenly you will realise that you are building your business through networking.

Sometimes this will be directly through people you meet, on other occasions through direct recommendations and then one day you will realise you have really cracked it, when people start contacting you simply because they have just “heard” that you are the person to go to in your field!

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