Making the Most of Networking Opportunities
For most businesses, networking – both online and offline – is an important part of the marketing mix. It’s an inexpensive and effective method for gaining exposure and generating leads. It allows you to meet people, find prospects, generate business, build and grow your business, and increase revenue.
Through networking, you can learn about opportunities you may not have known existed, as well as learn about your current position in the industry – where your strengths are and areas that may be improved. It allows you to find out what your current and prospective clients’ needs are so that you can better serve them.
Most of all, networking is about building relationships, which take time to foster and grow. Networking opportunities open the line of communication, allowing parties to begin and to continue to establish mutual trust. The more you network, the more relationships you will build, and the stronger those relationships will become.
Networking also helps you to find providers of services that you may need, and allows you to collect information and exchange ideas and referrals. In this way, networking is a reciprocal activity. It isn’t one-sided, but rather allows parties to give and take, making it mutually beneficial.
While Social Media has taken networking to a new level, and opened up a world of new opportunities, many of the same traditional networking principles still apply.
The key components to remember about both Social Media networking and traditional, in-person networking are: 1) networking takes time; and 2) networking is reciprocal.
Where to Network
There are two main networking venues: online and offline. Online opportunities include Social Media websites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many others, where businesses can create a profile and interact with other users. Some others include: http://wpwidgets.net/20-social-networking-sites-for-business-professionals/ and http://www.insidecrm.com/features/50-social-sites-012808/
Offline opportunities include membership organizations (such as Chambers of Commerce, other business organizations, clubs, philanthropic groups, etc.), which offer several organized networking events that are focused on business networking. These can be really productive because they bring together businesspeople with similar intentions and interests. Others include volunteering, sponsoring event, and attending and participating in workshops, conferences and trade shows.
Here are some ways to make the most of both online and offline networking opportunities.
Get out there – First, you just have to make an effort to network. As busy as you are, it still pays off to make time for networking. Show up to the networking event or on Social Networking sites. If you are not there, they can’t see you or learn about you.
Remember, exposure is important for business success. The more you network, the faster your business will grow. In terms for Social Media Networking, the more visible you are online, the more you keep up your Social Media presence, and the more involved you are in the online dialogue, the better. Networking gets you exposure, attention, visibility; it gets you and your business noticed in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
Know where you’re going – You want to go where your clients, prospects, etc. are. Who’s your target audience? Where are you likely to find them? Target your networking efforts accordingly.
Set goals – Plan out where, when and how you’ll network. For example, for offline networking, make a point to attend one networking event per month. Or, for online networking, maybe plan to Tweet four times a day, five days per week.
Know what you want to accomplish through networking. Do you want to attract people to your website? How many? Then what? Do you want to set up a meeting with a potential client? Do you want to gather contact information so you can follow up later? Having your goals in mind will help you to focus your networking efforts and make them more effective.
Be prepared – If you attend networking events, always have your business cards with you. Know your stuff. Make sure you know what you want to say about your business, and what you want others to know about your business (and can explain it in a way that conveys your message, and reflects your brand). Create an elevator speech, which is a short – 30 seconds to a couple of minutes – well-thought-out and practiced description of your business.
Online, you can convey this in writing – on your website, in your emails, on your fan pages, Twitter page, through your Tweets and posts.
But at the same time …
Provide value – Don’t be a walking, talking advertisement. Offer information and assistance. Online this can be accomplished by giving useful information of interest to your prospects, rather than merely telling them how great your product is.
Some other tips – Listen and learn from others. Be polite, personable, courteous and professional. Be curious, show interest, and follow up. Have fun and enjoy the process.
And, finally …
Be patient and consistent – As mentioned, networking takes time.