Monday, December 8, 2014

Networking Your Way to Success

If you’re a business owner or considering business ownership, then it’s likely you know how important networking is to your success. Businesses grow through building relationships and making contacts. So, if you’re not networking, you may be working hard, but not working smart. Let’s take a look at a few tips to help you get started or simply improve your networking strategy.

Networking Goals
The first step in successfully networking is setting goals. These will serve as your framework to take you where you are to where you want to be in creating and nurturing valuable professional relationships. Your networking goals are not set in stone, in fact, you should revisit them often, revise them, scrap the ones that aren’t working for you and set new ones.

Start by making a list of short-term and long-term attainable goals. Now, set a value to them. For instance, your goal is to connect to other business owners. In the short-term, let’s say you want to connect with five different business owners at your next networking event – five connections that you feel you can reach out to for advice, tips, ideas and support. As you reach each of your short-term goals, consider them little “wins,” and let them motivate you as you work toward your quarterly and annual goals.

Networking Tools 
After you have established your networking goals, the next step is to determine how to effectively execute on them. The following are a few tools to consider:

  • Business Cards – Easy to carry and simple reminders to those you meet, business cards not only provide your contact information, but are also a reflection of your business and the quality of your work. Writing quick notes on the back of each business card you receive can also be a great way to remember the connection or serve as a conversation starter on your follow up email to them.
  • Elevator Pitch – This is a critical tool in your networking toolbox. You should be able to describe your business and what you do in a succinct, concise and engaging way in 30 seconds or less. Be sure to tailor your message or tweak it depending on the audience. 
  • Website – If you’re a business owner, you need a website. When potential clients or customers want to learn more about you or your business, one of the very first places they’ll turn to is the Internet. There are a number of tools available to help small business owners get their websites up and running. Which means, you don’t have to be an expert in website design or have a large budget to get started. And, with the content management services available today, it’s easier than ever to create, publish and edit your own site. 
  • Social Media – LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are excellent methods to getting your brand and name in front of hundreds of potential clients and business partners. Link all three and throw in your website and you’ll have a powerhouse of networking tools working for you.

Making Connections
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” This may be an old saying, but it still rings true. Once you’ve developed your goals and compiled your networking tools, it’s time to start making connections.

Networking events are planned for exactly this purpose. So even if walking up to a new person and striking up a conversation is outside of your comfort zone, just know that everyone is there for the same reason you are. Let that give you confidence! Prepare your elevator pitch, bring your business cards and have a few questions in your back pocket to make sure you can keep the conversation flowing. Exchange cards with new connections along with a comment about how you might be able to help them. Be sure to follow up in a few days via email.

Also, consider joining a networking group or groups, which are great for connecting with like-minded individuals. Networking groups can be in-person or online, and both provide you an opportunity to share your expertise and meet and engage with people outside of your normal workday. Find groups that fit you in terms of size, time commitment, industry and goals.

There are a number of tools and tips available to help you network your way to success. From setting goals, to filling your toolbox with effective methods for reaching those goals and adding connections to your professional network, you can make networking a powerful asset to the growth of your business.