As a business owner, business networking is an integral part of your business growth.
It’s a chance to sell yourself as a confident person and put your business on the map. Asides from being an awareness channel, it helps you identify stakeholders, interact with potential investors and build your contact list.
However, sometimes business networking sucks.
You could fall into a network of salespeople who are just looking out for themselves and trying to push their product.
It could also be that you’re shy, and the idea of networking terrifies you.
In this article, we’ll first learn what business networking means, and we’ll go over seven valuable tips to help you find the right people to make meaningful connections.
What is Business Networking?
Business Networking is finding, connecting, and creating meaningful lasting relationships with your fellow business owners, stakeholders, and customers.
It’s also referred to as the process where business owners meet up with each other to grow their businesses in the industry.
This process usually has a clear intent and purpose. It’s a relationship that shows what you do, how you offer value, and what you hope to gain from it too.
Networking is very important to your business because it helps you;
- Identify open market or partnership opportunities for your product/service
- Gain insights into what your target audience is interested in or who your potential buyers might be
- Get the best business advice from industry experts that can influence your plans and strategies
- Validate your new business ideas and find a better chance of success
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7 Actionable Tips for Effective Business Networking
To start building meaningful relationships in your industry, you need to adopt certain strategies and positioning techniques that’ll help you stand out.
Here are our seven best tips to help you network with the right people in your industry.
1. Be Professional
Start by setting up a professional front. Asides from looking good, you want to be able to bring out your business card or immediately connect with someone on Linkedin without being ashamed.
This is why it’s important to optimize your professional profile.
People tend to be drawn to you when they perceive you as an expert. It also increases your chances of a referral – especially if you’re looking for public speaking opportunities.
So start with designing a professional business card. This should clearly state your role, contact information, and maybe some social profiles.
Next, you want to optimize these social profiles. Create a Linkedin account and optimize it to present you as a proper business owner.
Twitter is also a platform people tend to visit. So ensure your bio and views are in line with what you do. For example, if you talk about marketing strategies or foreign exchange, share tweets or create posts around that. If you have some that are a bit controversial, add a disclaimer to show that these views are solely yours.
Don’t forget to add a professional headshot to show that you are approachable.
Get a professional to work on your business card and ensure you always carry these cards with youEnsure your business profile is also professional – start by getting a memorable business name
2. Attend Networking Events
Business networking events are probably the best bet for meeting your prospects. There are many online and in-person events you can join.
Thanks to the internet, there are now many online sites that list events you can attend. Plus, they do this geographically, so you can find the nearest one.
Some of these sites include Meetup and EventBrite. While some events are free, some are also paid. You can find conferences, festivals, fairs, classes, and more.
If you want to start slow, we recommend finding webinars, Twitter spaces, and other types of virtual events to attend. There, the pressure wouldn’t be too intense, and it can give you time to work on your communication and presentation skills.
You should also expand the meaning of networking events. It doesn’t have to be forced. A simple conversation about everyday things can be your ice-breaker. You can start talking about business once you establish a connection.
Remind yourself that everyone is probably just as shy as you areStart by talking about the event’s theme or topic as an icebreaker – leave the boring weather conversation starter
3. Set Your Goals for Networking
Before meeting up with people, you need to know what you want out of that relationship.
- Are you looking to learn more about the industry?
- Get new friends?
- Are you maybe looking for an investor?
Having a specific goal can be helpful because you know how well you’re doing with networking.
So if you’re going to a conference, a typical networking goal would be to have a proper conversation with two other attendees. Another goal can be to connect with three attendees on Linkedin. You can then break this down into micro goals, like either talking to anyone for at least 30 seconds or joining in a group discussion.
Start by building your elevator pitch. Introduce yourself and your business in a professional manner. Ensure that you’ve practiced this to give a good lasting impression. You don’t want to seem pushy or salesy – it’s a turn-off sometimes.
Lead the conversation with questions. So rather than asking a prospect, “What do you do?” which sounds like you’re on a hunt, ask questions like “What do you think of the conference so far?” and pick up the conversation from there.
Be approachable – your body language determines whether or not people will feel at ease with youMake propositions only when the prospect is relaxed and genuinely interested in the conversation
4. Stay Up to Date on Industry Trends
Many times, your conversations during these networking events will move from general to industry-specific topics. Since you have to be able to follow through and contribute to the conversations, you have to know what goes on in your industry.
This is why staying up to date on trends is important.
Read blogs and articles about happenings in the industry. There are many companies like Morning Brew that send out a cumulative newsletter with trending stories.
You can follow thought leaders on social media to digest content in smaller bits. Podcasts are also a great way to keep up with trends. You can listen to them while you’re working on your daily tasks or even driving to pick up a cup of coffee.
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You should also take regular online courses to keep track of upcoming trends. As an executive, you might not have enough time to watch online courses. However, once you do dedicate time, you can pick up new things from a single lesson.
For your social media, consider Quora, Linkedin, and Twitter for influencer followingsYou can also watch videos on Youtube to see what’s new
5. Ask for Referrals from Your Network
Your friends will probably have someone within their network that fits into your prospect’s persona. You might already even know who they are. This could be a mentor, prospective client, investor, or just someone you’d like to have in your circle.
Asking your friends to make a referral or even introduce you to them has a higher chance of success because it’s built on the trust they have for that person.
Your friends and co-workers can also help you find industry-focused networking events. By asking them whether they have any events coming up soon, you can meet other interesting people without being unfamiliar with the territory. There’d be at least one friendly face you can fall back on.
If you don’t have a friend circle yet, start by joining online communities and your alumni network. Have regular catchups and sync with some of the members there.
Your mentor can also give recommendations and introduce you to other people in their network. If you have close friends in your industry, ask nicely for a referral and explain why you need that connection.
Meet with people outside of your industryAsk your co-workers about events they’ve found interesting in the past and ask them to invite you to upcoming ones
6. Focus on Helping Others
Whether you’re at a networking event or meeting up with a new referral, it’s not always about what you can benefit from the other party.
If that’s the case, it’ll look like you’re leeching off them. Any healthy relationship requires the same amount of effort, so you have to give something in return to get something.
Start by sharing your knowledge and expertise. Not only does it position you as an authority in your field, but you’d also genuinely help someone who might need your knowledge.
So in your conversations, listen. If they pose a question or seem a little confused, give some suggestions based on your experience.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should start giving unsolicited advice in an arrogant way. Remember, you want to give a good lasting impression. And the more helpful you are, the more people tend to remember you.
In some ways, you might get the favor back.
Offer valuable feedback and tips to whoever you’re assistingVolunteer to be their accountability partner or follow up with their actions
7. Follow Up with the People You Network with
It doesn’t matter if you make one thousand Linkedin connections if they cannot remember who you are.
Plus, if you do receive business cards or exchange contact information, the next step of that relationship is really in your hands. Following up with a message about how you enjoyed the conversation is an excellent way to start the relationship and keep the ball rolling.
This is why during your conversations, it’s important to actually listen. Make mental notes of important stuff.
- Do they have a family?
- Do they have a healthy work-life balance?
- Do they have a favorite sport they like to watch or play?
You might find out that you have similar interests you can bond over. They’d also be great conversation starters you can use to get familiar with them.
When collecting contact information, ask when they’d prefer to receive calls and messages. Remember, you still have to remain professional. This means not calling or sending emails during their busy hours. And if they do give you time to call back, be punctual by sticking to that time. This will make them take you more seriously.
What happens when you keep finding people with shared interests? Over time, you might become more familiar with some of your connections and realize you all need each other.
Create a group so you can form a community. This could be a Facebook, Linkedin, or even Slack group where you all can share ideas, and events, ask for help, and network as a community.
Ensure you verify that these people really want to be a part of a group before creating oneKeep the follow-ups short and void of unnecessary pleasantries
Bonus Point: Actually Commit to the Industry
If your goal is to meet up with stakeholders, you’d need to do more than just attend events.
This is because being an attendee or a referral doesn’t exactly separate you from the crowd. It just offers an opportunity to put your best foot forward.
However, taking on leadership roles and volunteering to organize meetups amongst other similar functions will help you regularly interact with these stakeholders and industry influencers. Over time, you can create connections with the right people.
Mentoring people is also a great way to show that you’re a valuable leader. You’d be helping people grow in the industry, and it’s a great way to connect with rising stars that’ll benefit you in the future.
As a small business owner, networking is the best way to get leads for your sales pipeline, investors, and actionable feedback on your processes.
However, creating and nurturing business connections starts with the effort to meet people. So look the part by getting a solid business name and profile, getting out there, and investing in mutually beneficial relationships.