When I was building my business, I volunteered as programs chair on the board of a women’s technology nonprofit organization. I used my connections to help plan the first six months of programs for the following year and also coordinated logistics such as booking the restaurants for our meetings. I also asked some of my friends to reach out to their connections to help us get quality speakers who were willing to speak to our group at no cost.
Because of my broad network and connections, I fulfilled my program-planning obligations in just three months, much faster than expected. My fellow board members expressed their appreciation by referring new business. Volunteering proved to be a great way to give back, gain exposure and drive revenues.
Whether you are a veteran small business owner or getting ready to launch a startup with a couple of college friends, networking is essential to the success of your business. Building solid connections with the right people will improve your business if you invest the time. And, by demonstrating your expertise and professionalism, others will think of you when they have a business need or someone asks them for a referral.
Be strategic, set goals
Prior to beginning a networking campaign, take the time to create strategies and goals. Are you looking to increase sales of a new product or service? Do you want to be introduced to the presidents of companies whose industry you are researching? Determine in advance what networking success looks like to ensure the time you invest in planning pays off.
Key steps to develop and nurture your network:
- Think of your network as social capital. In reality, social capital can strengthen your company and generate new business.
- Identify who can benefit your business by evaluating their expertise.
- Seek out colleagues who are well-networked and contact them when your business needs help.
- Engage with your satisfied clients, whether they are current or past. They are more likely to provide repeat sales and/or referrals because they know and trust the value of your products and services.
- Conduct research in advance of a networking meeting by finding areas of shared interest when talking to other attendees.
- Talk less and listen more when establishing a business connection. Use open-ended questions such as Who? What? When? And listen to the answers.
- Create a great first impression. If you drop the ball in this area, it can take up to 200 times the effort to repair the damage.
- Take advantage of LinkedIn’s Groups and Company Pages features to research target contacts and prospects.
- Recognize that having a large number of connections on LinkedIn does not always generate the results you are seeking. Instead, do all you can to establish a win-win networking relationship with your connections.
- Organize your follow-up efforts to ensure you don’t miss keeping in touch with certain connections, even if you don’t see an immediate benefit.
Skip the sales pitch
When you’re in the process of building your network, don’t make the mistake of trying to sell too early. Asking for anything while the relationship is in its infancy is counterproductive. Instead, focus on how you can help your network. This approach allows your network to grow naturally and when you need help, you’ll know the right person to reach out to.
Make the most of networking at events and conferences
Attend conferences that allow you to make new connections. Introduce yourself to the keynote speaker and exchange contact information. Then connect on LinkedIn and follow up with a note highlighting the main points gained from the presentation. Develop some personal stories and be ready to share them at events. This ensures people get to know you better and remember you.
Remember, networking is about forging relationships with interesting people. While you may have a lot in common with some of them, there may be others that you do not. Don’t overlook an opportunity to make a new friend. Appreciate the value of face-to-face interactions.