Networking is one of the most crucial skills any start-up entrepreneur must have. It is an effective and inexpensive way to grow your business by meeting the key people who could become your clients, suppliers and support systems.
In fact, networking is the best marketing device of even the most cash-strapped home-based entrepreneur. It is based on an inexpensive endeavor using a simple skill: talking. As a result, networking is also referred to as “word-of-mouth marketing” because it is based on talking to people about what you do and listening to find out how to serve them. The best networkers do not even know that they are networking – they are simply being good conversationalists; adept at becoming visible; talking and responding, and getting to know people.
However, many people are put-off with the idea of networking. Some view the practice akin to “politicking” requiring an extremely outgoing personality willing to approach anyone who would care to listen. Many start-up entrepreneurs also have a hard time approaching other people – particularly strangers – about their business. It may be the fear of speaking out to a total stranger, or the fear of coming on too strong or aggressive. Others let their insecurities take the better or them, while some people fail to network simply because of laziness. As a result, many formal gatherings and social situations become lost opportunities to spread the word about their business.
Everyone you meet is a potential customer or a valuable contact. Well, maybe not the old lady you met in the library if you are selling shaving cream. But then again, that old lady may have a husband, son or nephew who could use your product. Marketing is simply spreading the word around, and it is a big loss if you continuously pass up opportunities for networking.
Schmoozing pays. In fact, the growth of any business is directly correlated to the number of people who knows about it. Doing more of networking allows you to develop more contacts in your field and to exchange information with your prospects. It can help you find out the concerns of your prospects and who is fulfilling them; what’s happening in your industry; and who needs what and who offers what. It is basically an entrepreneur’s tool for relationship building.
Successful networking entails harnessing your people skills. But it doesn’t happen overnight, particularly for those who are not natural social butterflies. It requires careful orchestration and good manners, too. Here are several steps to help you become an effective networker:
1. Prepare a plan.
Networking goes beyond greeting people. You need to prepare a step-by-step plan for how you’ll build relationships and how you can effectively tell your story. It entails getting to know people who will either do business with you or can introduce you to people who will. When people ask you what you do, make sure you have a clever opening line to introduce yourself and your business.
2. Use social networking sites.
LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com , Facebook http://www.facebook.com and even the microblogging site Twitter http://www.twitter.com are excellent venues for virtual networking. Whether you are looking for potential partners, web site or blog contributors, or strategic partnership opportunities, these social networking sites allow you to expand and nurture your network in the comfort of your computer screen. LinkedIn, in particular, is most suited for professional networking as you can easily see the work and business background of the person.
3. Learn to communicate more easily.
To be a good networker, you need to work on your ability to make small talk. You need to be able to articulate what you do in clear, easily understandable, and memorable way. Imagine yourself in a cocktail party or industry luncheon full of potential prospects. Set a goal of meeting at least two people in one event, slowly increasing the number as you become more comfortable with the art of schmoozing. Once you are at an event, do not stand around with appetizers in hand waiting for other people to approach you. Go out, head straight to people you do not know, and start a conversation. You will defeat the purpose of networking if you continuously stick with familiar faces. Get interested in what others are offering or saying without being abrasive. Good networkers are good listeners, too.
4. Identify your prospects.
Know your most likely market, and learn where you will find them. Research as much as you can from the ideal prospects for your business. How do they get their information? Do they live nearby? What activities do they participate in? What organizations do they belong to? The more you know about your customers, the easier you can reach them.
5. Start with people you know.
Look at your roster of friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and people you have come across in your lifetime. From among your friends, identify whom you think might be able to help you the most.
6. Get involved.
A key to successful networking is to get involved. Participate in organizations, events, professional groups and social clubs that offer opportunities for you to meet and greet. Participate in numerous networking groups, join your chamber of commerce, and attend conferences and training seminars. With the advent of the Internet, you can also network in online newsgroups and discussion boards. The key is to list every opportunity to network and develop win-win relationships with your contacts.
7. Make networking a part of you.
Make it a point to meet new people wherever you go – whether you are on the plane, waiting in line at the bank, or fetching your child from school. Be generous in giving away your business cards
An established business has the luxury of satisfied customers spreading the word about the business. Until your business is self-sustaining, you need to start opening your mouth, spreading the word about your venture to all your friends, relatives, acquaintances, then later on, even strangers.
Recommended Books on Networking:
- Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected
- Networking Like a Pro: Turning Contacts Into Connections
- Make Your Contacts Count: Networking Know-How for Business and Career Success
- The 29% Solution: 52 Weekly Networking Success Strategies
- Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty: The Only Networking Book You’ll Ever Need