Following these business networking best practices can help you improve your skills – and grow your business.
Having the right connections can be a big advantage as you look to grow your business. That’s why networking is such an important skill. In general, building up your networking skill set takes practice and hard work. But if you are unsure of how to get started, fear not. This list of best practices will set you on the path to networking success. The more you apply these guidelines to your networking efforts, the better your results will be.
Best Practices for Networking
- Seek out the best opportunities. There is an old saying: Fish where the fish are. One key to successful networking is to identify places, events, and groups that cater to the kind of people you want to meet. Choosing the right opportunities will help you to best utilize your time and enable you to focus on building the right kinds of relationships to help your business.
- Do your homework. If you are planning on attending an event, research who will be there and identify people that you would like to meet. It may be helpful to look up people and companies on LinkedIn to prepare for potential conversations. Have a plan in mind before you arrive.
- Go for quality over quantity. Making 3 good connections is better than making 100 bad ones. Your best chance for growing a strong network is to have better interactions with fewer people. Having 1,000 business cards doesn’t do you any good if you don’t really know the people (and they don’t know you).
- Commit yourself to networking. If you are attending a networking event, mentally prepare yourself in advance to initiate conversations and make connections. If you are truly committed to meeting new people, this may mean sitting with strangers, moving around the room to different spots, joining in on conversations, and developing other behaviors that you may not be naturally inclined to do. Step out of your comfort zone and be open to the possibilities.
- Smile! In any networking setting, it is important to appear approachable. Body language can signal to others whether or not you are receptive to meeting new people, and the best way to show that you are friendly is to share a sincere smile.
- Be authentic. If you want people to relate to you and you want to build relationships, be genuine. There is little long-term value in pretending to be something or someone that you are not. Just be yourself.
- Let them talk. Dominating the conversation accomplishes very little. You are there to listen and learn. People like to talk about themselves and they like to be heard. Practice being a good listener and only speak up when you have something valuable to add.
- Ask thoughtful open-ended questions. One technique used by strong networkers is to ask open-ended questions. This draws others into the conversation and lets you focus on listening. And it’s important to make sure your questions are relevant to the conversation.
- Share your passion. When you do talk, share something meaningful to you. Talk about something you are passionate about. You may find like-minded people or make others feel more comfortable talking about what is important to them. Either way, share something interesting instead of the usual small talk.
- Avoid the hard sell. The best networkers recognize the value of building good relationships. Having the right relationships in place can lead to sustained business success. Pushing for the quick sale is short-sighted and can turn people off.
- Focus on helping others. It may be counterintuitive, but the best way for you to help yourself (and your business) is by finding ways to help others. This builds relationships very quickly, and also makes you more memorable. Do it often enough and people will be going out of their way to help you.
- Be a connector. One way to improve relationships and build trust is to bring others together. As your network grows, you will begin to identify natural connections that you can help to facilitate. When someone is looking for help or advice, you can make an introduction or pass on the right person’s contact information.
- Exchange contact info. Remember to exchange contact information with people you meet, when it’s appropriate.
Do not be the person looking to collect X business cards over the course of an event. Rather, exchange information when you have a good conversation, have mutual interests with someone, or have a topic to discuss at a later time.
- Remember to follow up. When you have made a connection, remember to follow up within a few days. If you made any commitments (e.g., to share an interesting article you saw, to send information about a product or a link to a useful website, etc.), remember to follow through on them. If not, it’s good practice to reach out just to keep in touch.
- Treat people with RESPECT. One sure way to help your networking efforts is to treat people with respect—respect for their accomplishments, respect for their time, respect for their ideas, and respect for who they are. Make respect a cornerstone of your business network and watch it flourish.
Learning how to network is a highly valuable skill that can help you expand your network of contacts and ultimately build your business. For more on leveling up your business, check out these 21 expert tips for business growth.
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