The Why Behind Networking for Business
Networking is a broad term which is generally understood to include all business social interactions from an ad hoc drink with a colleague to attendance at a conference. These are the
events which allow you to get to know colleagues in a social setting without the pressures of a business event.
For generations executives have met at the country club golf course, sealing personal and business relationships which often benefitted all concerned and excluded anyone not welcome in the club locker room. While that activity continues in various forms to this day, the opportunities for networking have exploded, in part in response to the demand for more accessible venues. Now the opportunities to meet other people in your own and other industries are broadly available, from the local Rotary and business associations to internet groups.
Why do this after you’ve worked all day? Because we all tend to trust those we know over those we don’t, and one businesses will buy from another with whom they have had contact over one they know only through an ad. People who know you give preference to your business and recommend your business to others. Therefore, being widely known may be the best thing you do to market your business. If you’ve shared a drink with Joe and Joan they are far more likely to use your company and recommend it to others. Keep in mind you are not just in contact with the individual facing you, you are also activating his/her network.
So how do you go about networking for business? You can – and should – network informally by meeting with other business people in the course of your life. Take advantage of the routine opportunities to mention your company (and pass out a card) while collecting children from school, after a religious service, at social events, while waiting for a car repair, or standing in line at the DMV. You don’t need to make a speech, just mention your business in the course of conversation.
For more formal networking, begin evaluating key business organizations in your area (Better Business, local business or industry-specific associations, Rotary, Kiwanis, Chamber of Commerce, etc.) Look at their membership, decide which organization will bring you into contact with the most useful group of people. If you are a woman you should investigate the professional or business women’s associations.
You will want to investigate the on-line networking opportunities – and there are many. A simple “business networking” search will turn up hundreds of organizations. BNI (Business Networking International) has over 170,000 members in more than 5 dozen countries. The site unabashedly states they will generate referrals for your company.
When you are considering the networking possibilities of various groups, factor into your appraisal the level represented by the members (e.g. mid level employees vs business owners and power brokers; sales/marketing types versus tech types) and consider what kind of people can ultimately do you the most good. This is not unkind: they all considered this before they joined. Also look at any rules and restrictions imposed on contact outside the sanctioned event. I’d personally see this as a red flag.
Once you join, you will need to get involved, spend some time, and get to know other members. It’s far easier for most people to talk with other members while planning the fund raiser or setting up tables for the conference than in the thick of the event while balancing a glass of wine and searching for a card. Do attend the events (they will get easier over time). Dress the part, lead with a smile and always take lots of business cards. You are not there to make a sale, you are there to make contacts. Contacts which will turn into referrals which will eventually turn into sales.