Networking is essential to success in your small business. But, like most of us with busy schedules, finding the time to build your social network is difficult. Here are some simple tips to help you maximize your time, energy and network like a pro!
1. Know yourself and your strengths.
Take time to discover your natural strengths. This is the first rule and foundational principle of networking. It will help you understand what you can offer those you meet.
Are you the visionary? Maybe you’re a doer, a messenger or analyzer. Each of these qualities are equally as important, so discovering your strengths will help you capitalize on your best assets and provide real benefits to people you encounter.
2. Get goal oriented.
It is pointless to attend a networking event if you don’t know your goals. For example, if you are a photographer trying to grow your business stay focused and streamline your conversations with that goal in mind.
Inquire about others’ needs, offer incentives to potential clients and leave new contacts with a business card. If you’ve developed a strong connection don’t be afraid to ask if they could recommend your services to others.
In contrast, often your goal may be strictly to meet a broader range of people in different fields and to expand your network. In either case, don’t forget to bring a healthy stack of business cards, and always know what you want to achieve before you walk through the door.
3. Build your confidence.
Let’s be honest, networking can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t know anyone. Meeting new people is a skill, just like any other, that requires practice.
With preparation and practice, that itching feeling of embarrassment will soon fade. Commit to networking with confidence! Stick to the basics: good eye contact and a firm handshake – but more importantly, loosen up and enjoy it!
4. Know when to say “Yes” and when to say “No.”
Networking doesn’t always involve happy hour events, mixers and mass business card swaps. As your business blossoms, you will receive requests from others for your time, mentorship and guidance. Carefully select opportunities and engage with others without burning yourself out. Be diligent and perceptive enough to say no to opportunities that may not be a good fit at the current time.
But after careful consideration, take time to set up a quick phone call, or brief email chat. Offer a few minutes to those you feel are genuinely interested in making a connection. At the end of the day, you never know what you may learn about yourself or someone else. Be careful not to discount someone’s face value, you never know where someone has been and where they are going.
5. Follow up immediately.
Within a few days of meeting a new contact, don’t forget to follow-up. It is a critical and often overlooked step. A simple email saying “I really enjoyed our conversation…” will do.
But why not take it a step further state your purpose and ask for a brief follow-up meeting. Follow-up emails, calls, and meetings help initiate a working relationship, but they also offer you an opportunity to tap into a new circle of contacts.
If you are actively building your business (which you should be), ask new contacts for recommendations of people in their network that you should connect with. Typically, people will give you some of their best contacts and you will see your simple follow-up yield compounded results!
6. Take time off to regroup.
When you’re building your professional network, you want people to know who you are and it’s easy to get too wrapped up in activities and scheduling. Remember, it’s just as important to maintain balance and make sure you’re taking time to yourself.
Now that you know how to maximize your networking experience, get out there and show the world what you’ve got – network, baby, network!