Monday, April 9, 2012

Build Your Network - Build Your Business

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 Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. Each is a little different but all three offer easy and fun ways to connect and share with others.  There are tons of other sites as well - Facebook, MySpace, GooglePlus+, and CafeMom are just a few. Each one is a little different but all give you the chance to expose yourself and your business to more people.

How do you build relationships through networking?  Follow these steps:

1.  Show interest in others.  Ask open-ended questions in networking conversations to get discussions started. This means questions that ask who, what, where, when, and how as opposed to those that can be answered with a simple yes or no.

2.  Share what you know.  When you become known as an expert and one who is willing to share that knowledge, people will turn to you for information and they will tell others about you.  This keeps you visible to them.

3.  Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals. When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them. Respect and honor that and your referrals will grow.

4.  Don't join groups or social networking sites solely to get referrals/followers.  If you do not have an genuine interest in the group or it's members, you will find it difficult to establish relationships with others. 

5.  Keep in touch. Do favors for your contacts whenever possible. Be genuinely grateful for any assistance they provide and be sure to acknowledge it with a card, a call, or even a gift.

6.  Make sure your contacts know what you do for a living - and make sure you understand their businesses. Otherwise, how will you send each other referrals?

7.  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.