If there is one word that has been used to its absolute limit in recent times it’s the word “network.” 99.99% of the use of this word has been in the context of “social” networks. Online networking is booming, but it is important to remember that sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are online tools to aid in real networking.
Wait, real networking? What is that?
The short answer: face-to-face
One of the worst things that we see on a consistent basis is when business owners use social networking sites as their only form of networking. We can understand the appeal of this. It is ‘safer’ to stay behind the screen and not have to put yourself out there in real life. The image of a ‘networking’ event seems daunting to most people. They have an idea of an uptight room filled with suited up execs trading cards and going in for the kill. For an everyday small business owner, this is not the environment they feel comfortable in. They would much rather be interacting via a computer screen.
However, as much as our communication has advanced as a society, face-to-face interactions are still the most powerful way to connect with other people. There are so many elements to communication that are present in real life interactions, such as eye contact and body language.
Ultimately, people do business with people that they like on a personal level as opposed to who is necessarily going to be the best person for the job. Of course the ‘friend’ card will run out soon if the person is not delivering what the client needs, but when a replacement is needed, the client will most likely use their contacts to find them. The key is that it is relationships that provide the basis for most business interactions.
And the key to developing real relationships is to engage in face-to-face interactions.
Start With Who You Know Already
You may not realise this yet, but you already have a network. It is only small at this point but it does exist, it has merit and is a great place to start.
If you aren’t sure exactly who is in your network, then you can begin the process by simply having a look at the contacts in your phone. Family members, friends and colleagues are all people who are part of your network. If you have done work with certain people in the past, it would be worth reconnecting with them to see if there are any other opportunities for more work.
Now, this shouldn’t be a phone call to an old client where you yell “ANY NEW JOBS?” down the line. It should be a social catch-up. For example, maybe a lunch where you just discuss how things are going and what the other person is up to. If there is an opportunity for collaboration, it will present itself pretty soon.
Go To Events
It might seem daunting initially, but we assure you that networking events really aren’t all that scary. One thing that is important to remember is that these events are filled with people who want connections with other people; they aren’t going to be put off by contact. Make an effort to speak to them!
Also, go to events consistently. There are a number of services that host networking events (even searching “networking events in my area” will get you some good results). If you go consistently, you will begin to see some of the same people over and over again. This means that you have an opportunity to reinforce the relationships that you make and not just be someone that they “met once at an event.”
For a quick moment, we would like to draw your attention to a famous lyric from ‘The Circle of Life” by Elton John.
Some say eat or be eaten
Some say live and let live
But all are agreed as they join the stampede
You should never take more than you give
In the circle of life
Never thought you’d be reading about the Lion King in a networking blog did you? Well that is the kind of lengths we go to here at Ad Impact to make sure that you are getting quality information.
The business world is its own ecosystem. Everyone is interacting with everyone else and every action you take will have an effect on the ecosystem as a whole. If you want to be a bigger player in the ecosystem then you are going to need to give more to other people. This is not necessarily purely financial exchanges (in fact it rarely is), but providing your time, expertise and advice to people who need it.
If you help people without them asking you for it, they will remember you and it will help you in the long run. People want to help other people that they like, so it is very powerful when you give back. Obviously you have to give within your means and can’t afford to be a charity, but if there is a place where you can help out (and not expect any immediate gain) then do it. It is a social investment.
We hope that your networking efforts are very rewarding. Networking is a crucial part of growing your business and can also be a very rewarding part of being a business owner!