Today is the day I check in with all of the online networks I belong to. As it took the better part of my afternoon, I had to give some thought as to whether this was a valuable use of my time. And the answer was - definitely! I have gained quite a bit of business simply from social networking and you can too.
First, let me clarify one point. Networking is NOT going to every event in town and handing out your business card to 100 people whose name you won't remember 10 minutes from now. Nor is it joining every online networking site and blasting all of your friends with SPAM. Networking is all about building relationships. Anyone who can understand that concept can network their way to more business.
To get started, you have to create a network. Start by making a list of all the people you know. You'll be surprised at how many there are! This is your immediate circle of influence. If you maintain regular contact with some of the people on your list, great! Keep it up! For those you haven't had much contact with in a while, it's time to renew that connection. Send an email or give them a call. Invite them for coffee or lunch or just to chat. The idea here is to re-establish the connection between you, so do not spend your first get-together listing all that you have been doing and how they can help you. You want to find out what's been going on in their life. Let them do the talking. You'll make a much better impression that way.
Once you have rebuilt your initial network, be sure to check in with these people regularly. Whether it's a quick email or phone call, a note to say thanks for some small favor, - even a gift - make sure you keep in touch. If you find yourself in need - your network will already be in place.
Now that you have your initial network established you want to continue to expand it. There are many ways to do that. Get involved - in your church, your children's school, with community groups. Join any professional associations related to your field. When you go to parties, mingle and chat.
You can also network online. The internet has spawned a wide variety of social networking sites, each one offering access to literally millions of people. My personal favorites are Ryze, LinkedIn, and Xing. Each of these is a little different. Ryze is a site focused on business to consumer networking and provides a venue to create a community around your business and personal interests. You can check out my Ryze page at http://www.ryze.com/go/marguarite. LinkedIn is easy to use and has many features including providing a testimonial for someone you know, passing along requests for connections, job listings, and easy networking with those with similar interests. My LinkedIn profile is at
http://www.linkedin.com/in/melodieannwhiteley. Xing is sort of a cross between Ryze and LinkedIn. My Xing profile is can be found at
https://www.xing.com/profile/Melodieann_Whiteley. There are tons of other sites as well - MySpace, Facebook, Squidoo, Friendster. Each one is a little different but all give you the chance to expose yourself and your business to more people.
Now how do you use your network once you have it established? Simple. Keep in touch. Do favors for your contacts whenever possible. (Now they owe you one). Be genuinely grateful for any assistance they provide and be sure to acknowledge it with a card, a call, or even a gift. Make sure they all know what you do for a living - and make sure you understand their businesses. Otherwise, how will you send each other referrals? Participate - whether in person or by posting on the online networks. As I said when I started this post, it's all about building trust and relationships. Do that and the rest will fall into place. So I hope to see you on some of the networks. And for those of you living in NWA, contact me. I'll give you a list of local networking events. Hope to see you there!