Business networking for Business Development is one of the most effective marketing and prospecting method you can use to grow your business. But if done incorrectly, it can be harmful to your business.
Business networking is a lot more than giving out business cards. It is about building trust. For Business Development the networking is a lot more than meeting people. It is about connecting with the right people.
Business networking is a lot more than collecting phone numbers. It is about staying in touch, about listening, addressing needs and looking for opportunities all at the same time.
Top Five Small Business Network Tips
It is how as a Business Development we approach relevant business networking sessions that makes it work for us. Networking is about being authentic and genuine, building relationships and trust, and helping others. Although increased sales is the end goal, don’t participate in business networking to sell.
Build relationships and sales will follow naturally. People have to trust you before they’ll do business with you or refer you. Relationship capital is an immensely valuable part of business success. Put your energy, intention and attention on business networking.
There is really no secret to building your network of contacts. There are a lot of resources out there giving tips and tricks on building business networks and expanding your realm of influence, but there are some basic principals to follow that can have a significant impact on how successful your networking events and strategies are. Paying attention to the basic details is often a more effective approach than using any "secrets."
What is the point of business networking? It is the process of building relationships with complementary businesses, business owners, and business managers to increase your influence and position within a specific market or industry. There are two points to take away here - building relationships and increasing influence and position. Relationships will naturally increase your influence, and influence creates opportunity and improved market position.
The most important value in business is the relationships that are built. Customers, clients, vendors, and colleagues all shape the relationships within a business. Like any other area in life, the quality of the relationships can have a huge impact on the outcome of your interactions with existing and potential clients, vendor/reseller relations, and every other aspect of your daily operations. Focus on building and maintaining positive relationships with your contacts (both within and outside of your company) you will quickly begin to increase your influence with your contacts.
How do you practically build good relationships with new contacts? There is balance and communication to work on. All relationships tend to follow a similar tract: introduction, follow-up, acquaintance, interaction, commitment. There is room between each stage for varying degrees of influence, but most relationships in business tend to fall somewhere in these five categories.
In the introduction stage, you first meet the contact, give some overviews about yourself, find out who they are, exchange contact info, and independently decide whether or not the person is worth a follow-up action. If there is the potential to have a mutually beneficial relationship, or the new contact can possibly benefit you, request permission to follow-up with that person. If you can benefit them, let them know that you would be open to a follow-up communication.
The follow-up communication is where most individuals drop the ball. It is difficult to make time in a busy schedule to get in front of your computer with the intent to follow-up on potential leads or new contacts. If you don't follow up correctly, a few things can happen:
1) you can loose out on a potential referral,
2) you could loose out on a potential client,
3) you loose out on a opportunity to get connected to a whole different network of contacts, and
4) you can loose credibility by not following up when you expressed an interest to.
If networking for increasing influence and position within a market is important to you, then follow-up opportunities should be created, not missed.
If you can get through the follow-up process, your hope is for a favorable response from the people you contact. When favorable replies are made (either by phone or email), you gain an opportunity to create an acquaintance with the contact. This is the real first step in developing a relationship. At this stage, you have made a favorable enough first impression to engage someone a second time, so use this opportunity to win them over. This third step is usually the opportunity to give out some usable information, such as potential leads for each of you, or a request for proposal (or a request to offer a proposal) for services.
Once you have had a few interactions with your contacts, you begin to develop an acquaintance with them. At this point, you both know each other and each others businesses, but you aren't close with them yet. You may or may not have had any business dealings with them, but they are at least on your radar for future deals, or as someone who you can send referrals to. Most business relationships don't grow past this phase, but if you continue to follow up with them and remain in contact, often times you will either get a lead or be able to give a lead to someone you stay in contact with.
The final step in the business relationship process is developing a commitment with the new contact. This doesn't have to be any formal commitment, but typically means that you both agree to continue interacting with one another. Hopefully the commitment comes in the form of a new customer or a referral that turns into a client, but either way, you have built a new business relationship that will only grow from here. It is important to not loose contact with individuals in this stage of the business relationship because they can often be the most influential people in your growing network.
Most business-savvy individuals are always looking to grow their network, which means that follow-up and continued interactions are welcomed. It is your responsibility to bring value to the relationships that you build - don't just look to your own interest, but to the interest of your new contacts. In doing so, you will begin to increase your influence and position within your industry.
Identify which networking events you should attend. Pick groups that’ll help you achieve your goals. Find venues that make sense for your business. When you register for an event, schedule it like a meeting.
Determine how often you should be networking. How many times in a week, month, or quarter? Visit as many groups as possible.
Attend events with a plan and always try to learn something new. Prepare yourself for the event. Develop open-ended questions to ignite a conversation. Bring business cards but don’t give your business card to everyone you meet. Give cards to those who ask you for it. Try to sit with strangers. Don’t forget to mingle.
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Keep track of people you meet. Keep in touch with them and deepen your emotional connection. Establish a mutual beneficial relationship with other business people and potential clients/ customers. Meet with the group members individually so you get to know them better and try to build quality connections. Consider other group members as resources. focus on the group; listen and think about how you can help them. Focus on giving. Build trust within the group.
Are you starting a new business? Or maybe you already have a small business? Whichever is the case you will no doubt have made business plan, forecast your cash flow and probably frightened yourself as to where all your money has gone.
In order to generate new business it's essential to market your business and certainly this can be a very costly business. Advertising is seriously expensive and in my mind it works best for those already with an established brand because it's about recognition and repetition, so unless you're already in the league of Coca Cola it's probably not a good solution.
Business networking is not about a closed shop where everyone gives each other work, it's much more powerful than that. It's fundamentally about the act referring business to people that you have grown to know, like and trust, and for them to do the same for you. Understanding how to give a quality referral is an art itself and something that I cannot cover today so for the time being let's just consider the benefits of business networking.
It is not a well known fact but 70% of new business that your company gets is through word of mouth. Networking allows you to formally explain what your business is about and as fellow networking business people get to know you so you will naturally start to win new sales leads because people like to pass business to people that they know.
Simply attending a networking event will raise your profile especially if you network on a regular basis. Remember my earlier point about advertising; recognition and repetition, attending a regular networking event achieves this.
Not only do you have the opportunity to present your business, you also get to meet with a lot of business people from other walks of life that will inevitably be able to help solve some of your problems. And you will be able to do the same, it's all part of the relationship building process and at the end of the day it's this relationship that counts when recommending someone's services.
You'll also get to know an awful lot of people that will be able to help you when you have a problem. Have you ever picked up the yellow pages and looked for a particular service? How do you choose? It really is hit and miss. By getting to know reliable contacts who can provide you with what you want and who can be trusted is worth so much in terms of your time and money.
Likewise, if there's no one in your network who can help, the chances are that someone knows someone who can and will recommend them. Suddenly you find that your business is moving forward at a much more rapid pace. Your confidence will soar!
Sharing experiences is also part of the game. Just talking to people about their experiences, their goals and their problems will stimulate lots of new ideas and open your mind to new opportunities. All of a sudden you have a completely new approach to doing something or even a new business venture that you may never have otherwise thought of.
Last but not least it's amazing how much satisfaction we all get from helping others.
There are many business networking techniques to learn in order to make the most of this style of marketing but once you've understood the basics, give it a little time and I'm sure that you'll soon understand the true power and benefits of networking.
Do not expect to receive benefits right away. Do volunteering work for network groups to stay visible and give back. As a responsible Business Development you must show up regularly and on time, show others how you deal with business meetings and associates. Give quality referrals and leads. If someone gives you a referral, follow up on it in a timely manner. Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. Take a referral seriously.
Don’t spam on social networks. Use the platforms designed for Business Development to build relationships and expand your network.
Limit self-promotion. Don’t sell. Build relationships. Be as helpful as you can. Share relevant information with others as people love to learn new things. Participate in discussions. Let others know you’re real. Be approachable. Treat your online connections just as valuable as your offline connections.