Networking is a skill that must be developed just like any other learned business technique. Building an effective and productive network depends on your ability to form mutually beneficial relationships with people in all different positions and industries. Here are five ways that you can take action to improve your networking abilities right now:
Listen and Learn
Networking is about more than just handing out lots of business cards. It's about interacting with people, hearing about their business and learning about their strengths and weaknesses. Only after you have listened and learned can you offer a solution to their problems. Likewise, you may also find a way that their business can assist you as well. Instead of making a sales pitch, try to find a common ground where you can work together to reach your goals.
Reach All Levels
A proper network is made of contacts from all professional levels. Network with those at a higher level that have the knowledge, skill and power you desire. The whole point of an extended network is that each person you add to your circle brings along a group of their own contacts and resources that you may later get to connect with.
A wide network is comprised of people with varying skill sets who may have just what you need when the timing is right. If you limit your network to only people at the same level as you, or only people in the same business as you, you risk missing out on other opportunities.
Focus on Connections
In the real world, fancy titles are difficult to cash in on. If you meet somebody at a local event who just happens to be interested in your business, they aren't going to expect you to introduce yourself with a resume. Instead, they want to connect with you organically through interesting conversation about what it is you do rather than where you got your degree and your latest promotion.
Learn to introduce yourself as a person first. A representative of your product or service second. You will find it easier to make a connection than if you go in with only a sales goal in mind. Ask them what their needs are and offer solutions.
Meeting a lot of people is great for networking, but those connections will soon deteriorate and fade away if you do not put forth the effort to maintain them. Take a proactive stance by reaching out to your contacts, hosting happy hours or lunches, engaging them in ongoing conversation, and showing an interest in what they do.
More importantly, make sure that when they reach out to you, you respond quickly and professionally. This will give them a feeling of importance. Prioritize your connections and continue to build the relationship.
Leave Your Information
Make yourself easily available to people who need your services. It is important that you give out your business card so they have a way to contact you. However, business cards should not be exchanged at the beginning of the conversation. Do not try to provide your solutions to problems that you don't know exist. Instead, find the heart of the problem, build a connection and then give out a card.
Make a note on your card about the product or service you have. This will remind them of who you are and what you may have to offer.
Networking is about getting people to work with you to reach mutual goals. By spending more time listening and understanding, you will build better relationships and provide a real service to your partners.
Actively engaging your network is the best way to continue to add contacts to your list and build a stronger presence. "The key isn't the sheer number of contacts you make. It's the number of contacts you turn into lasting relationships."