You have decided to start networking. You have signed up to attend a business luncheon and you want to share more on social media and the professional electronic listservs you belong to. But as you head into that luncheon, you freeze.
Whatever could you have to offer?
And, when you read the various postings on the listserv, you ask yourself why would anyone want to read YOUR post?
Welcome to the world of networking. When creating a new business, or expanding a current business, entrepreneurs are always in need of support and guidance. None of us can succeed on our own.
Years ago, in the Professional of the Month interviews I did for my monthly newsletter, the tip that most professional’s sited as the most helpful in growing their practice wasn’t improving their office, or growing their website: It was networking.
But what is networking and how can it help you? I will address these questions, and then give tips on making networking less painful and more beneficial.
What is Networking?
Networking is simply the exchange of ideas or information for the benefit of either or both parties. Most networking takes place to share and help the other person grow. Successful and effective networking is the creation of relationships, so it’s not a quick process.
Sure, you may meet someone at a meeting and share cards, only meeting them once, but if you don’t follow up and develop a relationship with that person, chances are unlikely they will remember you when they cross paths with someone who could use your services.
Networking today takes on a whole new meaning than it did just ten years ago. Before the internet created a global economy, networking generally meant going to meetings where people could meet, face-to-face, and share what they had to offer and learn how they could help other professionals. Today the purpose is the same, but the venues have expanded beyond borders. We can network with people around the world, now!
How can Networking Help your Business?
Networking can help in all aspects of growing a business! From learning who to contact to create your marketing materials to how to set up your office, who to consider when ready to incorporate, to how to deal with particular types of clients. All of this can be discussed with others, helping you answer questions that you don’t have the answers to.
When I was only in business for a couple of years, someone asked me how I got started. Through the years I would offer this person advice and, in a sense, mentorship, and today she is a very successful businesswoman in her own right. A colleague has become a very good friend and also someone who often refers organizations to me for speaking engagements. Both of these are examples of how networking helps with business.
In order for networking to really help you grow your business, you have to be seen. Don’t attend just one or two networking events a year, or post an email every couple of months, and expect to become known in your geographical location or specialty. People have to see you often, and for a long period of time. They have to get to know who you are and what you are like. They must know you are a permanent part of the community and are there for others, as well.
They need to know you care enough to show up.
Effective Networking Tips
Most important, if you are a health professional, the first thing you have to do is learn how to create an effective audio logo. Another term is elevator speech. This is a very short, but pithy, explanation of what you offer to others.
As a Registered Dietitian, I used to tell people I was a Registered Dietitian and Personal Fitness Trainer. People would kindly look at me and nod with what appeared to be recognition… then walk away without a CLUE what I did!
Of course; I told them what I WAS.
How does that help them?
Today, I spend a lot of time teaching professionals how to create an effective audio logo, so that when people hear what they do, they are able to relate and say to themselves, or out loud, ‘Wow, that’s what I need!’
As I decided to network more, the thought of it would send a shudder down my spine. But then I started to realize that the biggest advantage to enjoying the networking experience wasn’t what I got from it, but what I could offer to others.
Once I stopped focusing on me and started to focus on other people, my anxiety dissolved.
My biggest fear was running out of things to talk about.
However, if you focus on the other person, and ask them to tell you about them, conversation just flows. Sure, it will eventually end (well, you hope so), but then you say it was great to talk to them, you look forward to staying in touch, excuse yourself and go onto another person.
This is the same when you network electronically. Be selective in your posts, but always focus more on offering help/answers, rather than just conversation. People will remember you when you offer your time and support.
When you go to a live networking event make sure you have plenty of business cards. Never run out! I have my business cards everywhere. My husband has my cards, also, and gives them out to everyone he talks to.
A networking specialist for Entrepreneur Magazine, Ivan Misner, points out, the business card is the single most powerful business tool you can invest in.
The two main functions of your card are to gain business from the person you give it to and to get your name out to other people from this person who now has your cards. When you give out your card, always write something personal on it. This will give that card a greater chance to be held onto by the receiver. Be sure to give them more than just one card, however, so they can pass them out.
A classic tip for receiving cards is to make notes on the card shortly afterwards, in order to jog your memory about that person. Contact them after the event to say something nice; this helps jog their memory about who you are and think about you when a potential referral comes their way.
Networking CAN be Fun
Networking does not have to something to dread. If you shudder just thinking about it, I challenge you to start practicing. Pick a small event where you know most of the people and feel relatively comfortable. Then make the decision that you will speak to no less than ‘x’ number of people at that event. Practice some of the tips above and get comfortable with them. Then pick another event and do the same thing. It really does work!
Not only can networking be a fun and easy way to enrich your life, but it can enhance your career and greatly broaden your horizons. Remember to treat networking as the exchange of ideas, information and experience and focus on how you can help the other person.
If you look at networking as relationship-building, you will be greatly rewarded with how it helps you grow professionally, and help you build friendships that will last a lifetime.
Marjorie Geiser, MBA, RD, BCC
MEG Enterprises, Inc.