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We all know that networking is an integral aspect of growing our business. But do we practice what we know? Do we network consistently — and effectively?
Sure, most of us speak in industry lingo when we’re around each other, and do it quite well I might add. But effective networking involves much more than that.
As I see it, you’re really not networking effectively unless you can answer the following questions in the affirmative:
• Do you make it a point to attend true networking events and activities?
• Do you include networking activities as part of your regular work schedule and do you have a plan for what you will accomplish at each event?
• Finally, do you attend each activity with the intention of learning how you can help others?
To maximize your networking opportunities, you first need to realize that networking can encompass a vast number of events, activities and situations and should not be confined to after-hours events where you hand out a stack of business cards and simply ask everyone you meet, “How’s business?”
No, networking effectively happens when you meet — and help — potentially powerful people. By powerful people, I mean those who have the ability to empower and help someone. When you meet and help these types of people, they may, in turn, return your favor by helping you sometime in the future. By networking this way, all involved can enjoy brighter and more prosperous futures.
One of the best ways to build these kinds of effective relationships is to be genuine. And the best way to start is by figuring out how you can help them get what they need. Be sure to do that even before you begin to think about how they can help you.
How to Find Networking Opportunities
Another thing you must consider is how to find the best networking opportunities for your situation.
Like finding a local favorite restaurant or the best fishing hole, to find effective networking opportunities, you want to go where the people are biting — educational classes, seminars, lunch and learns, your chamber of commerce and member mixers. But don’t just attend these types of events, become a volunteer in the organizations that hold them.
Once you're fully involved in the organizations, don't make every conversation about work or networking, either. Sometimes, just giving a recommendation for a good accountant or a reliable service station will suffice. Soon, the people and companies you recommend and refer will become part of your growing network.
Build on the Old Adage About 'Who You Know'
The old adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” while true, ignores an important aspect of effective networking. It’s not only about what and who you know, it’s also about who knows you.
Simply knowing an important person doesn’t necessarily mean that they will know and remember you. First, they must perceive you as a person of worth. Once they do, they will begin to perceive you as someone worth knowing and spread your name.
If you can answer "yes" to the following questions, you will be on your way to being recognized as a person of worth and making networking an integral part of your day, rather than a mandatory chore:
- Is the first impression you make on new acquaintances a memorable one? Do you stand out among the gathered business cards? Your initial networking encounters should be less about meeting new people and more about having them remember you after you leave.
- Are you timely, personal and consistent with your networking follow-up? Don’t leave the room full of good intentions while ending up with a file full of connections, phone numbers and cards that go unnoticed and unanswered. Set aside the time to conduct timely, personal follow-up.
- Will you commit to understanding that meeting someone once is rarely enough to get new business? Repeated contact is the name of this game, so plan for future encounters and make networking progress.
Now that you know what to do, here are a few tips that can serve as a guide to networking more effectively:
- Do less, but do it better. You don’t have to attend a networking event or activity every week. Start small. Similarly, you don’t have to work the whole room when you’re there. Find someone you can connect with at each event and have them introduce you to someone else. Soon, your list will be growing faster than you can imagine.
If you have a follow-up assignment for a particular contact, do it right away. Also, be sure to send a timely, personal note to every contact you make.
- Prepare an introduction before you attend the event. Create a mini “commercial” about who you are and what you do. Keep it simple, but make it memorable. You want the people you meet to share your story with others.
- Speak with confidence. Believe in yourself. To be a powerful resource to others, become known as an expert in your field. When you do, others will want to be associated with you and recommend you to others.
- Ask questions that will provide more than "yes" or "no" answers. Show genuine interest in the stories of the people you network with and begin building relationships based on trust. Remember, people prefer to do business with someone they know or someone who was recommended to them, rather than with a total stranger.
- Tell people what you want. Telling them can be as simple as saying, “I am looking for…,” or, “Can you help me with…” Besides, if you don't tell them, they won't know and can't help you.
- Practice helping others. Not only will helping others make you feel better for having networked once you leave an event, it will also help you clear a few hurdles when you are first getting started. When it comes to networking, in the beginning, it’s better to give than to receive.
Effective networking is inexpensive and, in many cases, free. So, put yourself out there — be active, present and attentive. Your new company champions and networking partners are out there waiting to meet you.
Kerry Mulcrone, MIRM, CMP, CSP, is president of Mulcrone and Associates, a Minneapolis-St. Paul-based new home sales and training company. As a speaker and trainer, she shares her unique ideas for sales management, teamwork and personal and professional success with organizations, educators and associations. She is a board member of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities and a member of the National Sales and Marketing Council. For more information, e-mail Mulcrone, call her at 612-817-4089, visit the Mulcrone and Associates Web site, or network with her through LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, Twitter account and blog.
This article originally appeared on the NAHB Sales and Marketing Channel.
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