How important is networking to small businesses? Ask a small service business where they get most of their customers, and they are likely to indicate some form of word of mouth marketing. Networking is equally important for career success for people who are employees. According to a 2016 Report by LinkedIn, 85 percent of all jobs are filled via networking.
Clearly, if you aren’t taking the time to meet and interact with others in your field, you’re likely missing out on valuable opportunities to find new partnerships, generate referrals and even land clients and positions.
Of course, networking isn’t just about building relationships. Meeting and interacting with other industry professionals also enables you to continue your education. While you might not have time to attend a seminar or certification course, grabbing coffee with a business connection helps you stay abreast of new developments and practices in your field. You can bring these trends back to your current company or use what you learned to better your chances of landing a new position.
Don’t wait until your marketing funnel is empty to start networking. If you want to build a robust business, you should get out there and make connections today. Check out these 11 networking tips sure to expand the number of opportunities that come your way:
- Attend Business Networking Events
The first step in successful networking is knowing where you should go to make connections. While almost any activity or event can serve as a networking opportunity, small business owners and professionals with local businesses should attend local business events. For example, your town/city’s chamber of commerce might host gatherings for people in your industry. Additionally, it’s worth hitting up meetings for professional associations and societies related to your field.
- Choose a Goal
It’s hard to get what you want out of your networking endeavors if you don’t start with a clear agenda. Before attending meetings or events, take the time to determine what your goals are for the experience. For example, you might want to make new connections, donate your time to the community or simply learn about the latest developments in your business or industry.
- Get Social in Your Off Hours
Just because you’re off the clock doesn’t mean it’s time to stop networking. If you want to expand your reach, make an effort to chat with attendees at your health club or sporting activities. You can even make business connections at your child’s school activities and events. After all, parents are typically looking for something to chat about besides what’s happening on the soccer field!
- Know Your Worth
It’s not enough to provide your clients with a great product or service. If you can’t articulate what it is you do, then you can’t hope to convey that information at networking events. Whether your goal is to generate referrals or simply build your virtual Rolodex for the future, you should take time to generate an elevator pitch that conveys what you do, for whom you do it, and why customers should choose you over your competition.
- Identify Conversational Icebreakers
If you want to overcome initial awkwardness and make a good first impression, consider opening with a compliment. For example, you might tell the person sitting next to you at a seminar that you like their shoes or tie. Similarly, asking a question gives contacts the chance to talk about themselves. Ask how they got into the field or what they think of a recent development affecting your industry.
- Bring a Buddy
Sometimes starting conversations with strangers is easier if you have a familiar face by your side. If you have a friend or coworker who’s also looking to expand their network, consider attending professional events as a twosome. Just be sure you make an effort to connect with other attendees rather than sitting in the corner chatting with them the whole time.
- Overcome Introversion
If you’re naturally shy, having success in networking can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are some strategies for overcoming introversion and making connections. First, consider brainstorming icebreakers before a networking event, so you don’t have to come up with ideas on the spot. Second, feel free to take a breather if you get overwhelmed. Go to the restroom, take a walk, or grab a coffee. You can return to the room refreshed and ready to meet new people.
- Find a Reason to Follow Up
Making connections is only half the battle; you also have to take steps to keep the relationship going. Even if you aren’t currently job hunting, strive to reach out to your contacts a few times a year to follow up. You could forward a relevant article, invite them to a seminar or conference, or even just send a friendly note during the holidays.
Of course, being successful in networking is about more than what you do. It’s more about what not to do. Here are some tactics to avoid if you want to boost your business connections.
- Don’t Be Negative
When searching for conversation starters, avoid speaking negatively about former companies or coworkers. After all, you don’t want potential contacts thinking you’d say bad things about them given the opportunity.
- Don’t Be Selfish
Whether you’re chatting at a chamber of commerce event or attending an informational meeting, it’s important to remember that networking about gives and take. If you’re always the person asking for favors, the relationship is unlikely to last. For best results, look for opportunities to help your networking contacts prosper in their own careers.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for What You Want
We all need help now and again. If you want your networking efforts to be a success, you have to be bold enough to ask for assistance. Before attending that next meetup or seminar, make sure you can articulate what it is that you’re seeking. Then, when someone asks how they can help you, tell them the truth.