Networking has long been a core business skill, and as communication becomes increasingly digitised, it’s more important than ever. While digital platforms, apps and email have made creating a network a little easier, many people hide behind their keyboards rather than build genuine one-on-one relationships.
Reaching out over email or LinkedIn doesn’t automatically mean you’ve made a meaningful connection, just as swapping business cards with someone doesn’t necessarily make them a new addition to your network. Your ability to form genuine relationships and turn to those contacts when you need them is ultimately what makes your connections worthwhile – and it’s the real power behind networking.
Here are some tips for building a strong network of like-minded people using a combination of online and offline tactics that will hopefully open the door of opportunity:
· Do your research: Find out about the person and the business you want to connect with. It’s easy to do a little reconnaissance, and in fact, it’s expected. Networking is like dating – you have to find that “business chemistry” with people who are similar in their approach. Put simply, people do business with people they like. Showing a genuine interest in someone’s work and experience will make a big impression and forges the strongest connections.
· Make the call: If you’re a salesperson, pick up the phone! If you want to make contact with someone in a senior or key position, calling not only shows initiative in today’s digital world, but more importantly, it shows respect – which is critical in cultivating a deep personal connection. But, before making contact, make sure you have some strategy in your approach and have something they’ll be interested in hearing; if you want to form a relationship with another person, you first need to show them how they’ll benefit. You don’t go to a dinner party without taking beer or a bottle of wine. Making the call is key, but following up and returning calls is equally as important.
· Time it right: Now you have a coffee meeting or phone call arranged, make sure you arrive or call on time. Being punctual is not just professional, it shows that you respect their time, as much as you respect your own. You only have one chance to make a first impression, so a considered and respectful approach will do more than the new suit or skirt!
· Listen up: Once you’re in conversation, make sure you listen. If you’re nervous it’s easy to start talking about you and your business because you know that information back to front. But, networking is about establishing rapport and identifying how you can work together. To do that, you need to ask questions. Actively listen, and by that I don’t mean waiting for an opportunity to unleash your sell. If you’re really listening, you’ll not only learn about their business, you’ll be in a better position to be able to identify where you might be able to help, or notice when an idea or opportunity appears.
· Make it personal: Personalisation is critical in so many ways. If you’re meeting or presenting for the first time, having the data is not enough. You need to interpret that data, curate it to filter out the noise and create something that speaks to the intent of their brand or business so it’s relevant and engaging. Personalisation is a sure fire way of getting you to where you want to be in the conversation faster and more effectively for both parties. Again, it shows respect for their time and business nous. It also extends to finding ways to connect with your contact on a social basis to forge a stronger relationship. Too often when clicking with someone, people drop the ball, failing to check in post-meeting and never leverage the new relationship. Unless the connection is ongoing, it’s just a meeting.
· Stay authentic: Authenticity is a buzzword at the moment, but that’s because it’s important. You need to be able to deliver on the promises you make and that includes something as simple as “I’ll call you next week”, right up to delivering on agreed services and value-adds. You really are only as good as your word in business, which is why authenticity is a value worth nurturing.
Networking isn’t as easy as it may seem. It’s not about firing off multiple LinkedIn invitations or emails, or having the gift of the gab. It’s about hard work and how you approach it. It’s about being agile and adaptive to different personalities, and it often means leaving your ego at the door. It’s about reaching out with an offer to help, rather than being helped. It’s also one of the most rewarding things you can do in business, as you can find inspiring mentors, forge lifetime relationships, build your business acumen and ultimately deliver successful outcomes for your business. That’s the real power of networking.