Business Networking Strategies for Entrepreneurs
What Are Networking Strategies?
Networking strategies are simply taking a strategic approach to making professional connections and contacts. But it’s about more than simply meeting someone and exchanging business cards—those connections have to be fostered and turned into business relationships.
Remember that people who are networking are looking to have a business relationship that’s mutually beneficial; they don’t want to feel like you’re using them or taking advantage of your connection with them. It can be a sharing of information or skills.
Try these networking strategies next time you’re at an event—or even when you’re just at a restaurant After all, you never know what connection might lead to your next big opportunity.
Take every opportunity to meet new people
“The most important lesson in networking is to take every opportunity possible to meet new people. Don’t dismiss a single soul—you never know who you’re talking to, who they might know, or how they might be able to contribute. As the saying goes ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’
Focus on how you can help
Networking is all about helping others. Engage in meaningful conversation, share your interests, and see how you can offer your resources to the other party.
Go to networking events alone so you’re forced to talk to new people and do your homework in advance. If the attendee list is publicized, make note of who you’d like to meet beforehand.
It may seem scary to go on your own, but remember that everyone is there for the same reason—they all want to make new connections. So don’t be shy; just walk up and introduce yourself! The only thing you have to lose is an opportunity.
Don’t forget your business cards
Never, ever leave home without your most essential, ‘old-school’ networking tool: your business card. Even in the digital age, business cards are still the single fastest way to share who you are, what you do, and how you can be contacted.
Network with your customers
“Put yourself wherever your customer is, whether that’s networking in person or virtually through online forums or social media. Either way, connect with your customers and hear them out on their pain points. That way, you can better design your business or service to solve those problems.”
Ask for introductions
People you already know can be the best resource for meeting new people in your industry. Send an emails to people on your list and just write from the heart— Ask for feedback, make announcements about your business, or just plain catch up on the latest thing you are working on. Always end your note by asking shamelessly that you are looking for product developers and word-of-mouth referrals.
Prospective customers and jobs can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time, so always be on your best behavior. Focus on making friends with people before you need them for their connections—you never know who is in, or will be in, a position to help you out down the line.
Listen more than you speak
It may be tempting to get as many words in as possible, but it’s a much better strategy to focus on the quality of your words, not the quantity. That way, everything you said is worthwhile, and, more importantly, it lets the other person fill the empty space. People are much more likely to remember an engaging conversation than a single thing that someone told them.
Connect on non-business topics
It’s much easier to build successful business relationships when you connect with people on a deeper level than simply business.
Most successful networking experiences began with topics that weren’t work-related at all, like hobbies or book recommendations. Even when at a business event, be willing to share what you’re truly passionate about.
Once you establish common ground, you can build a strong network of friends and experts in diverse fields. With that common ground, you’ll feel comfortable asking for advice when you need it and you’ll be happy to offer your advice in return. All in all, networking is about building trust, and giving as much as receiving.
Make the first move
Reached out to anyone and everyone who would take a few minutes to share their story with you and listen to your pitch. It is helpful to get an idea of what it’s like to be a business owner and receive some excellent feedback on your business model and products.
Don’t expect immediate gratification
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t meet people who can immediately help you. Many of the most valuable network leads will come from people who remember you and will introduce you to people they know who would be beneficial for your business.
“There’s a saying in business that ‘People do business with people.’ It’s important to remain professional while networking, but you should try to approach everyone with a kind and informal attitude. People may be slightly put off if you’re overly formal or stiff and everyone is looking to make new connections and gain valuable insights from each other. So, eventually, something will naturally come up in conversation that you’ll find relevant and useful.
“Nervous? Keep on networking. Socializing is like a muscle; the more you do it, the stronger your socializing skills become.”
Focus on building relationships
Networking should not be mistaken for the face-to-face version of a ‘cold call.’ Instead, focus on building relationships and adding value to those relationships. Whether you’re just meeting someone or following up with an existing contact, ask yourself the magic question: ‘How can I help you?’ By making it about them and not you, you’re more likely to build the trust needed to sustain a working relationship and add value to those relationships. Ultimately, you’ll get as much as you give.
Keep in touch
Following up is absolutely key in networking. Boomerang on Gmail lets you schedule emails and set reminders in case people don’t respond to an initial email. If you just met someone and want to keep in touch with them, schedule an email that asks how they’re doing and offer a chance to meet again when your schedules free up. This keeps you from writing emails in real-time when time is of the essence. It’s a big time-saver.
Schedule time to network
We hear the excuse that there’s no time to network from many people. They can’t go out for drinks or attend networking events after work most nights. The answer is to schedule time on your weekly calendar for a coffee or lunch and then reach out to people to meet you during the workday. Be strategic about which evening events are worthwhile for you and try going to one or two meetings to assess if that organization is one that will introduce you to new people.