Probably one of the funniest but disappointing connotations in our country is that of networking. The phrases “are you open-minded” and “let’s talk it over coffee” have been sensationalized to the point where networking has been significantly reduced to up-lines, down-lines, and selling of supplements/beauty products. Hence, we need to veer the conversation to the larger picture of networking as used in business marketing. As a business coach in the Philippines, I could vouch for the benefits of networking in doing business and securing potential partnerships.
Networking is the process of building and expanding networks. When we say ‘networks’, we mean ‘connections’, who could possibly help us or our business in one way or another either at present or in the future. This network may be composed of friends, former schoolmates, colleagues, friends of friends, or random strangers we meet on a day-to-day basis. With this, networking requires social skills. Most business leaders in the Philippines who have sought my executive coaching expertise revealed that they have insecurities when it comes to networking. In this article, I will share with you five tips on effective networking in the hope that you could get a grasp of how to do this essential business tool.
1. Be selective.
It may sound arrogant but being selective when it comes to networking has its advantages. Let’s face it, we can’t possibly connect with every single person currently in our circle, hence the need for us to evaluate our contacts. In marketing, they call this “prospecting” or assessing whether a customer is a target market. In simpler terms, we can call this step as “filtering” among our contacts on who is worth establishing a relationship with. Just like looking for a possible life partner, we should look out for those who have commonalities with us and who can be helpful to our business endeavors. We ought to figure out who matters the most, who deserves the time and effort we will be investing, and who can introduce us to better opportunities, either as a professional or as an entrepreneur. They could be a friend from school, a colleague from a previous job, a friend of a friend, or someone we previously did business with. All you need to do is look at your contact list and determine which ones are worth it. Additionally, venue selection is equally important. You do not need to attend every single event you have been invited to. Instead, you have to ask if a particular gathering would yield possible partnerships or new connections.
2. Lend a helping hand.
Some people are hesitant about the benefits of networking because of unrealistic expectations, including the instant result of every networking effort. Networking means building a relationship. A relationship does not prosper in a single day. Rather, it takes time and involves both parties to nurture and protect the bond that binds them together. Similarly, networking involves getting to know other people and getting them to know you in return. The talk about sales and referrals then ensues. But what could possibly be the best step to introduce yourself and get favor from your network? I recommend lending a helping hand to your prospects. Try to find out what they need or desire, and determine ways in order to help them solve this need. Through this, you would have better chances of offering your product or service to them or their network. Likewise, they would feel more motivated to return the favor to you, especially that we are living in a culture which places high value on gratefulness.
3. Take time to socialize.
Of course, networking requires you to socialize. The logic is simple: How are you going to meet new people when you don’t want to go out? It doesn’t need to be an exclusive party for VIPs. All you need to do it get yourself out there and try new things which your prospects also experience. For example, you can take art classes or golf courses to meet like-minded individuals. Even a short salon talk can get you a valuable connection. As a motivational speaker, I always tell my audience to “stalk and strike” their network: Stalk where your prospective connections usually hangout, and then strike a conversation with them.
4. Use social networks.
Let’s admit it. Social networks, despite their privacy and other issues, prove helpful in networking. In this age where everything is digital and smart phones tend to be the staple technology, meeting new people and sharing information across your network is done through social media platforms. Hence, you could use this to your advantage by improving your LinkedIn or Twitter accounts and using them to establish professional connections.
5. Stay in touch.
It isn’t enough to just build a network and let it expand on itself. This is why maintaining visibility is recommended. When we say “visibility”, we mean to let your presence be evident so your people network would not forget you. From time to time, you could send an e-mail, share new information, or visit the person. What is important is to stay in touch and maintain quality interactions with them.
Every business wants to build connections, seek referrals, and earn. We all just need to be bold enough to make the first step and steer the wheel to our direction.
This is Joey Gurango, your Business Technology Coach!