Ask an Expert: How can I improve my business networking skills?

Vasavi Kumar, a YFS Magazine small business advice columnist, shares tips on how to take action in their lives and businesses in unconventional and fearless ways. This week...

Ask Vasavi: Vasavi Kumar, a YFS Magazine small business advice columnist, shares tips on how to take action in their lives and businesses in unconventional and fearless ways.

Dear Vasavi: As an entrepreneur, how can I improve my networking skills and maximize my current network?

Answer: Network with a plan. Instead of diving in headfirst, treat networking as part of your business plan – find out what you need and how you can get it. Ask yourself three questions:

1. What people or companies could help me in my business?
2. How can I connect with them?
3. What do I need to be a successful entrepreneur?

Based on your answers, plan your networking activities. Create a timeline for “who” and “what” you need. Here are five important things to remember as you look to improve and expand your professional network:

1. Ditch the elevator speech.

People want to do business with people they like – so go into it like you’re making a new friend. Keep your conversation fun and informal, and focus on building a relationship with the other person before getting into business discussions.

2. Show up early.

If you are attending a networking event make it a point to be early. Though it may be tempting to show up late to avoid awkwardly standing around, it’s actually a better idea to be among the first to arrive. The event will be just getting started, it’ll be easier to find people to talk to, and you can gather your thoughts in the relatively calm atmosphere before everyone else arrives.

3. Listen first, speak second.

If you think of networking as simply meeting a new friend rather than marketing yourself, you’ll feel more at ease. Don’t only talk about yourself. Remember: The most successful networkers make other people feel special. For example, treat the other person like they’re the only one in the room. Smile, look them in the eye. Really listen to what they’re saying and keep the conversation flowing. Don’t let your eyes wander to see who else is there. Have a conversation, not a presentation.

4. Network socially.

Take your networking online. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have made it so easy to keep in touch with people. LinkedIn is especially useful for connecting with other business professionals. Keep your profile updated and use these sites often.

5. Pay it forward.

Help others, and you help yourself. It says worlds about your character when you help someone not because you want something from them, but because you sincerely care. Recommend others, create business for them, introduce them to potential clients. Become a friend, and you will be a leader.

Remember: Networking is first and foremost about relationships!

When you can communicate with someone without just looking at what they can do for you, people will love to work with you. Keep this in mind and you will be able to achieve your business goals while creating new, solid relationships. Happy networking!

Connect with Vasavi on Twitter.

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Photo: Vasavi Kumar


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