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Networking is one of the most important things you can do as a business owner.
Why is that?
Well, studies suggest that networking at events can gain companies up to 20% of their new customers. If that’s not enough of a reason, a solid networking strategy can also be the key to finding new investors and partners that will help to increase business.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to network successfully for (at least) two reasons:
- That awkward intro phase when you’re trying to connect (I recommend using your shirt as a billboard – trust me it works!)
- Time constraints (so much networking to do, so little time)
Building connections takes time, but (as you already know): TIME. IS. MONEY.
So how do you ensure that you can strategically network when you’re strapped for time?
make it a daily habit
How do you get to Networking Hall?
Practice. Practice. Practice.
The more you practice networking as a daily habit, the more naturally it will fit into your day. Yes, it’s hard. You don’t have to go setting an hour or more aside. Simply start with just 5 minutes a day, then work up from there when you can.
Start the morning (or your afternoon) by sending emails to others online and connecting with your peers on social media. Do it first thing in the morning or first thing in the afternoon.
Put phone calls with potential partners and investors into your calendar and work through them during gap times or every time you’re stuck in traffic (ONLY IF YOU CAN MULTITASK!!!).
Once networking is as much of a habit as brushing your teeth or your hair, it starts to feel more natural.
Bonus: when you make something a habit, you end up finding a way to make time for it and you’ll be less likely to come up with an excuse to get out of it, like “I don’t have a moment to spare”.
leverage new connections
Networking isn’t JUST about building new relationships.
It’s about connections too.
Do you have people in your network (like co-workers or people you’ve met through other networking events) that you can connect with others that need their expertise? This could be your “in” with some important peoples in your field.
Get to know your teams and learn about their backgrounds, skills and expertise. Take it a step further and have their contact info at the ready (with their permission of course) just in case you need to make an immediate referral.
Plan lunches/brunches. When you have the opportunity, plan networking lunches or brunches. Grab lunch with staff, people in your field or people with complementary careers and skills.
You might discover that your internal and extended network has a LOT more value to offer than you originally thought. You never know which employees have hidden talents that you could utilize in your business or connect with others to help them with theirs.
Use Existing Activities
Are you a social butterfly?
You should be using those activities as a part of your networking strategy.
Example: if you volunteer at non-profits, strike up conversations with your fellow volunteers. You just never know who you’re sitting next to.
Even if you don’t gain any valuable connections immediately, you’re taking the time to connect with others and practicing the networking skills that will benefit you in the long term.
You can chat everywhere – from your gym to your laundry place.
Daily networking practice helps you work on your ability to build emotional links to others and that is a LOT more valuable than most people realize.
Schedule in advance
You need to prepare for in-person events.
It’s not likely you’ll be going to an important conference as a last-minute thing, so gather some info ahead of time.
My tips for going to a conference:
- Have business cards or contact info readily available at a moment’s notice
- Get a list of the speakers and make it a point to talk to the ones in your niche
- Bring a notebook or portfolio to ensure you can take notes
- Whoever you speak to, write down their names and little tid-bits of info about them for the follow-up (EXAMPLE: Davina- great at video edits, plays guitar, went straight for dessert at lunch – new bestie alert!)
To help improve your chances of regularly networking, attempt to attend at least one each month (even if it’s an online event) and give yourself time to prepare for them:
- Make a list of the events that you most want to attend
- Add them to your calendar
- Calculate any related costs into your budget
Be selective about the kind of events you choose.
Ideally, you’ll want to visit an environment where you can either:
- reach people who are going to benefit you and your biz
- network with people who have skills that could be useful to you and your biz
Use social media
Finally, social media is one of THE most popular and convenient ways to network these days.
Granted, social media can be annoying. You just can’t know in advance if the person on the other end of the conversation wants a professional business connection or a funny business connection. It’s a crapshoot, really.
Either way, don’t let that deter you (hit the block button if you need to).
Make a little time each day to go through your social media connections and reach out to those who might be valuable to your social circle, but set a timer if you need to so it doesn’t take up too much of your day.
You’ll zap your productivity if you end up getting distracted for an extended period of time.
If you have multiple social accounts, consider consolidating them with a social media marketing tool, so you can share content more easily and attract potential connections to you.
Networking is a vital piece to the puzzle of your success.
Keep these tips in mind to enable you to perform critical networking activities without it taking time away from the rest of your business.
Networking Contacts Pages
Keep these in the pocket of a folder (or whatever you bring to take notes on) when you go to networking events.
The goal of these pages?
- Take down contact info
- Write notes for a follow up