Like many business owners, you may feel you’re too busy to network while you’re running your business. But if your goal is to grow and build your business rather than just run it, it’s vital that you find time for networking. It’s an investment in your future.
You may also think you can do it all alone as a business owner, but having a strong support network around you is as important as it is beneficial - especially if you’re still assessing the viability of your idea.
Networking gives you the opportunity to discuss the challenges of business with other business owners at a similar stage, as well as with more experienced owners.
Nearly everyone, from business professionals to job seekers, sales professionals to tertiary graduates, recognises that in today’s competitive marketplace, relationships and networks are critical assets in a professional toolkit. The process of widening your network is relevant and important throughout your business life. It will help you find answers and lead to new opportunities and customers. As the saying goes, business is all about people.
Networking isn’t about reaching out to the highest person in your industry, it’s about building a valuable relationship with the right people. Knowing the right people will allow you to work smarter – not harder – to build your professional network. You can transform your networking opportunities by networking with the people who matter most for your business.
Your network should serve not only as a lead source for new business, but as a sounding board, a support system and a news source. And it requires maintenance to make it work.
Smart networking takes research, strategy and visibility. Effective networking is the act of building two-way, mutually beneficial relationships.
Business Mentors – a key network.
Great mentoring will open doors, set direction and help you achieve your goals.
When you’re in the day-to-day of running your business and fighting fires, it can be hard to keep your eye on the big picture and focus on your goals. A business mentor brings new perspective to the table, keeps your business on track, challenges your strategy, supports you with making tough decisions and allows you to learn from their success as well as their mistakes. Business mentors are all geared towards helping you grow your business, and will be one of your most important networks.
For more information on business mentors NZ, Click HERE.
Intentional networking strategies are a critical part of business for gaining introductions, leads, referrals, insights and relationships with stakeholders who are important to achieving your goals.
All of us have a natural network - made up of family, friends and people you associate with personally and professionally. But an intentional network is that group of contacts you strategically and specifically recruit, maintain and nurture.
Intentional networks are win-win relationships based on rapport, trust and mutual benefit.
Most people look to meet and network with decision-makers. These are the hiring managers, senior leaders and people who can hire us, contract with us and buy from us. The problem is that often, they are the most sought-after individuals and can get overwhelmed with inquiries. So consider two other categories of contacts for your network: information sources and cheerleaders.
Information sources may or may not have the power to hire you, promote you and buy from you, but they might bring some unique industry information or insight that makes you more competitive, relevant and better at your business. For this reason, when you meet someone who is potentially a valuable information source, you should network with them as if they are a decision-maker.
Similarly, a cheerleader is another vital part of any networking strategy. These are your fans. They cheer you on when things get rough and give you support and references when you need them. These positive, supportive people are just as valuable as any decision-maker in your intentional business network.
- Decision-makers: Contacts who can provide you with direct leads, direct work or bridge you to contacts who can. These might be hiring managers, procurement personnel, clients, customers and agents who can transact with and buy from you.
- Information sources: Contacts who can provide valuable insight into companies, industries, trends and people about whom you need to know. For example, someone with a deep knowledge of marketing can be helpful as you position yourself for a new job or promotion.
- Cheerleaders: Contacts who will provide references, testimonials and will vouch for you. These contacts will give you support and encouragement. This might be a friend from your past or a colleague at your current job who is upbeat and optimistic in times of stress.
As you begin to outline and organise your network, start listing the people you already know. Consider alumni from high school, college and grad school; colleagues and co-workers from current and past employment; and people you met at events and functions. Start putting these names into a database, like Excel or Outlook, so you can easily manage your relationship and refer to them.
Keep track of meetings, phone calls, notes sent and other ways you have to contact with your network. If you meet someone new, enter them into your database and begin to keep them in mind when you come across an article that might be interesting to them.
Keep in mind that each of these people will require that you provide them with equal value (reciprocity) to make the relationship work for both parties. Consider how you might be someone else’s decision-maker, information source or cheerleader.
Nuggets for networking
- Show reciprocity. For every favour you ask (an introduction to a job lead, a connection on LinkedIn or referral), be sure to return with something of greater perceived value (return a lead, make a valuable introduction or at least send a handwritten note of gratitude). The scales should always be tipped in your contact’s favour where possible.
- Become a resource. Find ways to help your contacts. Send links about news reports, books or articles of relevance. Refer a colleague. Be seen as a person who is connected to people and information. These are low-cost ways to make a big impact.
- Show your authenticity. When you’re genuine, people want to get to know you and help you. If you don’t know an answer to a question, say so, but then find the answer. Be that resourceful networking contact, but always show your genuine side. People connect with people.
- Online. Send updates on LinkedIn or Facebook letting your contacts know what’s going on in your business or your life. Other networking opportunities can be found online by reading industry websites and blogs, online seminars and interacting on forums. This will increase the scope of your network and also allow you to see how other people are building their networks in your career field.
- Not just when you want something. Stay in touch even when you don’t need/want something. Let your network know how you’re doing, what you’re up to and what you might have to offer. Typically, we only hear from people when they need something (a job, advice, etc). Be the person who stays in touch to let your network know the good things happening in your business life too.
- Variety. Be careful not to rely solely on friends or family to give you advice about your idea because they may simply want to support your enthusiasm. Surround yourself as well with expert advisers. Advice from one experienced business person who has overcome the challenges of starting a business can be worth far more than the opinions of others who may never have run a business.
- Plan. Always make sure you have a business card to give people you meet and dedicate set times to engage in social media. Platforms such as LinkedIn provide great opportunities to network online and start discussions with other professionals.
- Seek to learn. When starting to network, try connecting with the other person’s engaging subject. When talking with someone new, seek out things that make them smile or laugh, rather than topics that cause their face to droop. Asking questions that elicit a positive response indicates that you’re on the right track. Family and holidays are two good topics.
- Respect people’s feelings. While you might think that Facebook post was funny, it could hurt someone’s feelings or damage a networking relationship. Similarly, don’t share confidential or proprietary information or details unless you are 100% positive that’s okay. Reciprocity means being respectful of other people’s needs and feelings.
- Respect people’s boundaries. In networking, be mindful of the limits someone is willing to go to to help you. If you ask for a favour or an introduction (even when you intend to reciprocate) and the other person is hesitant or unwilling, learn to be okay with that. Not everyone is comfortable sharing their database and credibility with others. Reciprocity means learning when it’s okay to hear “no.”
Remember, by having a clear strategy and focus for networking and focusing on reciprocity in building your relationships, you assume responsibility for finding and forming mutually rewarding networking relationships. At all points in the networking process—in person and online—it’s crucial to keep your reputation and vision in check. Having this clarity will allow you to act with generosity, and you will make a positive impression for your personal brand. To read more about keeping customers and most importantly, keeping them happy, click here.
Networking through events.
Attending business events is one of the most effective ways to grow your network. The benefits for your networking by attending events include:
You meet a much bigger pool of like-minded people in one setting rather than trying to connect individually. Many of them will be attending events to network too so they will be open to exchanges of business stories and ideas.
One to one contact generates far higher levels of trust between people, faster. By letting others see and hear you, they develop greater trust in you than if they’ve just visited your website.
The Auckland Business Chamber runs highly successful networking events that allows its members 'to meet people today who they can start doing business with tomorrow.' Flagship Chamber networking events include The MarketPlace Expo, Business Updates and Alliance Partner evenings.
For more information about Auckland Business Chamber events, click HERE.
There’s no substitute to the benefit of attending large-scale business events of the type that the Chamber offers, but as a business owner there are smaller scale networking occasions you can create that will complement your attendance at professionally run events:
1. Customer panel
Get a few of your best customers together and provide drinks and nibbles. Tell them about your newest plans and ask their opinions. You will get really useful feedback to help you in your business AND you can offer them a good deal if they decide to take up your newest product/service if they book now.
This is a great way to present an offer without doing a “big sell,” but if they want to take up your offer they will.
2. Best practices
You are an expert at what you do, simply by virtue of making a business out of your knowledge. So, you have lots of great information you can share with your clients and potential customers. You can run an event where you teach them about the best practices in your industry. This shows your audience you really know your stuff and gives them confidence in you as a business.
You don’t have to be a B2B (Business to Business) company to use this—for example, a wedding photographer could run an event for brides on how to look great in their wedding photos. By the end of that session, their audience will feel comfortable with that photographer and know they are great at what they do, so are more likely to book them for their weddings.
3. Getting started with … or “how to”
Often, your customers will really like the idea of what you do, but aren’t really sure how to best use your products and services. So, simply taking them through that is a way to move them closer to buying.
Similarly, a “how to” session can be very effective. With this approach, you talk about how to address a specific issue, and then talk about your products or services as the answer.
4. Open day
If you have a venue or business location, an open day is a fantastic way to let people see “behind the scenes.” They will feel like they know your business better, and be more interested in what you do. You will be surprised at how many of your customers and potential clients would LOVE to know more about what goes on in the background—and this will make them more likely to buy from you.
5. Taster event
If you sell anything you can break down into smaller bits, then you can run a taster event. This includes trial classes for training programmes, or food and beverage tasting events. This is a perfect way to try a product or service for a smaller cost, so they are taking less of a financial risk. At your taster, you can make an offer on your full service, and give them a discount or something extra if they book on the day.