Business networking is a pain in the rear — it takes time, it can be awkward and the rules of engagement are confusing. And yes, some people think it doesn’t work. But as sure as I am about anything in the world of marketing and business, networking should be an important part of your strategy for extending your influence and generating new business.
There are two major categories of networking: macro and micro. Macro networking is what you do when you create content and share it with a larger audience, most of whom you have never had personal contact with. Micro networking is what you do when you reach out to specific individuals and groups in a more targeted and personal manner. Micro networking is more effective, but requires more thought and time.
There are many reasons for you to become a better networker in 2018, but here are four of the most essential:
Networking will make you more successful. I have never met anyone in the business world who has built a large network and regretted doing so. Every connection is a potential opportunity for that individual, the company they work for, or someone they know, to purchase from you, give you access to a needed resource, or provide some other benefit.
Networking is cost-effective. One of the greatest virtues of networking is that, while it requires a certain amount of sweat equity, you can utilize many great tools and proven processes at little to no cost. In fact, networking is by far the most cost-effective B2B marketing and sales strategy.
Networking is the right thing to do. Most of us have the ability to spend tons of time hiding behind our computer screens, performing our functions and not making personal contact. Networking can build more personal connections, learning opportunities, and the ability to be of assistance — both to yourself and to others.
Networking is a great partner. Most companies need to practice a blend of push marketing and pull marketing. Networking can be an excellent complement to either strategy. People in your network will not only give you much higher response rates, they’ll also help your message(s) and offer(s) go viral.
Business Networking Principles
Everyone networks a bit differently, but here are some guidelines that can help you get off to a good start.
- Start connecting NOW. Do not spend hours of time wrestling with whether and how you should start connecting — just do it. And when you consider the types of people to connect with, go for a broader and more diverse set of individuals. You never know where you will be in five or 10 years, so don’t presuppose the types of people who will be most valuable to you (or vice versa) at that time.
- Make it personal. Micro networking tends to be more effective than macro because it is based on the real needs of a person, not a persona or group. Yes, it takes more time to collect information to make your communications personal, but this time is usually rewarded with increased receptivity.
- Communicate before you have to. Do not be one of those individuals who only reach out when they want something (e.g. job, referral, partnership). You will have greater receptivity if you keep in touch when you have no expectation of a reward.
- Provide value. I like what Jon Ferrara (founder of GoldMine Software and Nimble) said when quoted in a recent article: “Treat your network like a garden ….Ultimately, your contacts are the heart of your business ….Stay at the top of your customers’ minds by giving knowledge away.”
- Keep it professional. I know you feel strongly about your political, religious and other personal opinions. However, most of the time it is not worth the loss of goodwill from the people who disagree with you. There are plenty of negative voices online, so why not be a beacon of positivity?
- Pick the right tools. There are hundreds of social media and networking tools. Attempting too many will frustrate you and cause you to spend more time learning the tools than actual networking. Just pick two to three to start with. For business, I like LinkedIn, Twitter, and a company Facebook page, with email, text and telephone thrown in for highly targeted micro networking.
The idea is for people to move from your macro to your micro network — what I refer to as Expanding Your Circle of Marketing Influence. Obviously, those who are in your inner circle are much more valuable to you (and vice versa) as those who are simply contacts or part of the prospect universe.
Barriers to Networking
So why, despite the benefits, do some people do little or no networking? I believe there are three major barriers. First, they don’t know how. You overcome this objection by reading information sources like this article and jumping in.
Second, they do not understand the benefits. In this case, I ask people to be open-minded, try it, and find out for themselves.
The third barrier is the fear of rejection: What if I reach out to people and they ignore or reject me? Well, the fact is that some people will and some people will not. Networking is a numbers game and you have to get in the arena if you want to win.
For another perspective on this subject, read John Hagel’s excellent article, “Measuring Your Real Net Worth”. Here is a brief excerpt:
“But here’s the problem. Looking at net worth in financial terms focuses us on a lagging indicator. It tells us how we’ve done in the past, but it offers only limited insight into how we will do in the future. Is there a different way of thinking about net worth? I believe there is a way that’s much more insightful and helps us to focus on what’s really important. I believe that our best measure of net worth is our network.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Finally, I will leave you with several excellent outcomes I have received from networking:
- Several long-time successful client relationships, including two from overseas who would not have known about our company unless I had kept up with them via networking.
- Referrals to new clients from my micro network.
- Rekindling of old business relationships — a couple of which have turned into personal friendships.
- Writing opportunities for major publications.
- An opportunity to collaborate with noted industry leaders on new business promotions.
This is not counting the many great learning and sharing opportunities networking has brought to me. The same will be true for you as you make networking an integral component of your daily activities.
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