I may appear regularly on radio and TV, but I’m not all that different from other people when it comes to networking. The whole concept of establishing any relationship with total strangers and then converting them into treasured resources can be overwhelming. Still, with a clear understanding of what networking is really all about, anyone — from the life of the party to the shyest wallflower — can develop a great business network.
Here are four tips that can even help those of us who hate networking develop the valuable business relationships they need.
Leverage Your Current Network
If you have family and friends, you already have a network. But you probably don’t recognize that these people can help with your business issues. If you need assistance solving a specific problem or finding new customers, talk to the people that you know. Remember that they have connections, too. A simple introduction is all that you need to grow your own network.
But don’t stop with your close contacts. You probably interact with many people every day, and you know them well enough to ask for help. One person that I know has been going to the same spa for years. One time, she brought some business brochures and asked if she could place them on the reception counter next to other promotional items that they already had on display. With their permission, she got some calls from people already primed to purchase her services while avoiding the pain of cold-calling.
Do Not Fear Networking Events
The thought of facing countless people that you don’t know may seem overwhelming, but a little advance planning can simplify the effort. When you find an event that you believe may help you, start by contacting the organizer at least a few days before the meeting. That person can make introductions for you ahead of time through email or social networking.
On the day of the event, you may enter a room with hundreds of people, but you know which people to seek out. When you introduce yourself in person, you will instantly see a friendly look of recognition on their faces. You can feel more comfortable conversing with new friends, rather than trying to break the ice with total strangers.
Leverage Social Media
Social Media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook have blurred the lines between real relationships and virtual connections. But these tools eliminate the need for face-to-face or phone contact as a preamble to establishing business contacts. Set up one or more free accounts and start making connections.
If you pay regular attention to your social media accounts, you will get to know quite a bit about your new friends. Then, when you find someone with mutual interests and concerns, consider making your conversations more private to find out if you can help each other in your networking efforts.
Aim for Quality Over Quantity
Networking is not an all-or-nothing proposition. It is better to find a few people with whom you can develop a mutually-beneficial relationship than to collect an impressive stack of business cards. So, even if you are at a conference with thousands of attendees, find ways to do your networking in small chunks.
For example, everyone has to eat, so ask a few people sitting near you in a late-morning session to get together for lunch. Instantly, you create a small group of people who share your interests without the embarrassment of trying to ask a single person to go out with you. You may or may not become lifelong friends with your new lunch buddies, but you will know that each business card has real meaning for you.
Whether you are an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere between, you may have discovered your own tricks to increasing your list of valued business contacts. Please share them below.