To succeed in business these days, who you know is just as important as what you know. This is why you have to know a thing or two about networking. Keep in mind that sporadically sending a social media post does not constitute smart networking.
It goes so much deeper than that if you want to create an interwoven network of connections that can propel your small business in the right direction.
1. Organize an Event
Networking these days is synonymous with social media, but don’t forget that meeting people face-to-face is also a form of networking. Sure, it’s a lot more expedient to befriend someone on social media. However, a contact made via face-to-face has the potential of going so much further compared to a random Facebook friend whom you probably never even met in person.
Why is it important to meet people in a live, physical setting? Social media and teleconferencing is no replacement for close-proximity interaction, which incorporates factors like facial expressions and body gestures for an authentic communication experience. One study, in fact, found that face-to-face interaction led to more trust among members who were assigned a complicated group task.
This is precisely why you should host an event where you can actually meet people the good old fashion way. Planning an event is a huge undertaking, but the rewards are well worth it. Even though you’re the host, you should be on the floor and meeting people just like all the guests are doing.
2. Avoid Speed Networking
Speed networking (also called drive-by networking) is similar to speed dating where you acquire as many contact information as possible within a limited time frame. Sure, you’ll get a bunch of email addresses and/or phone numbers, but so will everyone else. This is a very impersonal way of meeting people and doesn’t allow ample time for really getting to know each person individually.
With any networking event, it should always be about quality over quantity. Focus on meeting just five people and really taking the time to get to know them. This will go so much further than acquiring the contact details of 30 people whose faces you probably won’t even recall the next day.
3. Always Follow Up
When you meet someone, whether in person or online, always follow up afterwards. Send that person a quick hello on social media. If the person lives locally, then propose a lunch meeting. Following up also extends to your existing followers on your company social network channel. If someone asks a question, promptly reply. You can also contact that same person again a few days later and ask if there is anything else you can assist him/her with.
If the other person initiates contact, great. If not, then you need to be the proactive one. Initially, it may feel like you’re the one doing all the work in maintaining a connection. However, after a few follow-ups, you’ll be able to distinguish the true prospects from those that really aren’t interested.
4. Arrive Early
If attending an event, consider arriving about 30 minutes early. This will give you a chance to strike up a conversation with other early birds. Since the event hasn’t begun yet, this gives you a chance to have a casual dialogue that goes beyond the typical exchanging of business cards.
Speaking of casual dialogue, you should also invite others to join your discussion. If you’re having a discussion with someone, and you see another nearby attendee by himself, ask if he would like to join your conversation. Some people tend to be introverted and need a little nudging. Be that person who makes the silent types feel welcome. That’s one extra person that’s now in your network.
5. Build a Friendship, not a Business Contact
When networking, whether online or offline, work on building a friendship rather than a business relationship. The latter will come naturally if there’s a fit. Of course, you can still exchange business cards and tell the other person about your business, but leave it at that. The rest of the interaction should be informal, much the same way you would talk to an old friend.
With this in mind, try to steer the conversation towards non-business related topics. You might be surprised to find that you share a lot of interests or have a similar family life. When you can build a relationship based on mutual trust and similar interests/lifestyles, then that person may be more inclined to do business with you. If not, then at least you made a friend, which is equally as rewarding.
6. Be Social Media Savvy
This post so far has mostly discussed in-person networking. This doesn’t mean, though, that you should eschew social media. Being social media savvy doesn’t just entail sending out a few posts and crossing your fingers that they’ll get a lot of likes. Use your social network channels to relay industry-related news or to ask for feedback. Also use your channels for hosting an occasional group meeting or a U-stream.
It’s recommended that you use a variety of media, including images, short videos, and GIFs. Tweets containing an image, for example, is 35% more likely to be retweeted, while those with a video is 28% more likely.
Finally, posts can also occasionally be non-business related. You can also send a post wishing everyone a happy holiday, to send condolences amid a national tragedy, or to raise awareness about a charity group. This shows to your followers that your company is made up of real people connected to the real world.
Networking Is the Way of the Game
If you’re not networking, then your business is far from reaching its potential. It certainly takes a lot of work and not every person you meet will convert to a loyal customer, but you will slowly elevate your brand name.