Successful Business Networking
|Written by Renee C. Quinn
B.S. Pennsylvania State University
M.B.A. University of Phoenix
Posted: February 18, 2008 @ 11:01 am
Blog | Twitter | LinkedIn
Send Renee an E-mail
One of the biggest expenditures that a business can take on is marketing. Depending upon the nature of your business you have to decide whether print ads, TV ads, printed flyers, radio ads, or billboards make sense. All of these marketing tools can be very costly, especially to a new or small business where funds are an issue. One of the best ways to get your name out there without incurring as much cost as these forms of media is through Networking. Networking is essentially meeting and connecting with people you want to do business with.
Networking is an essential part of marketing for your business. It allows you to connect with folks in your field who you can formulate ongoing relationships with. These will be colleagues who will learn from you and potentially need your products and/or services. When you network you are looking to effectively communicate what your business is about, what it has to offer and where you are located. There are some key steps to take to Network effectively and is sure to help you build long lasting business relationships.
You should always carry business cards with you. Your business cards should be professionally printed and should include your telephone number, your email address, website address and logo, if you have these and your company’s mailing address. I do not recommend that you create and print your own business cards on your own printer. The perforation of home made business cards is visible and unattractive. You want your business cards to stand out and look professional. Although business cards can be expensive depending on the design, card stock and colors you chose, you can get free business cards. This is not meant to be a permanent solution, as you have limited designs you can choose from, but it’s a great remedy for small businesses just starting out. Make sure you carry your business cards with you at all times. You never know when the need to have one will arise.
Talk To a Lot of People
Talk to people you don’t know no matter where you go. Business contacts can not only be made within a business environment. You never know where a good contact can be made. I was once at a hair salon and heard a man talking to his hairstylist about business that was pertinent to me. I made the connection, started talking to him and exchanged business cards. We formulated a very good working relationship which resulted in my getting work that I would not have otherwise had if I had kept quiet. Think outside of the box and don’t forget about airplane rides, supermarket lines, sporting events, festivals, bookstores, your child’s school, and so on.
Join Your Local Chamber of Commerce
There are so many different Networking organizations available to small businesses. One of the most popular organizations to join would be your local Chamber of Commerce. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce features a Small Business Center on their website where small business can go to learn about what is available through the US Chamber of Commerce. They also have a Chamber Directory Search Page available on their website where you can locate the local Chamber of Commerce in your area. Following is a list of many benefits that your local area Chamber may have available to its members:
Networking opportunities either at the Chamber itself or at member business sites
Free or low cost training for small business owners and their employees
Reduced rates on health and dental insurance
Reduced fees for Chamber events
Advertising opportunities either on the Chamber website or in the periodic newsletter
Use of the Chamber conference rooms
Event sponsorship opportunities
Member referral programs
Notary public service
Grand opening assistance
Member news updates by mail or email
Opportunity to serve on some of the Chamber membership committees
Join Networking Groups
One networking group that I recommend is Business Networking International or BNI. BNI is one of the largest business networking organizations in the world and is located in more than 35 countries worldwide. There are usually multiple chapters within any given geographical area. You can utilize the Find a Chapter tool located on the International BNI website. BNI is a referral group, where only one person from each industry can be a member of a given chapter. BNI meets weekly so you have the opportunity to get acquainted with your colleagues in your chapter. The idea behind BNI is this, while you and your colleagues are out doing business each week, you keep the business cards of your fellow chapter members with you in your briefcase or car. Then if you meet someone who has a particular need that you cannot fulfill, you would then recommend someone from your group. You’d then bring that referral to your Chapter’s weekly meeting where hopefully others have done the same for you. Some industries do far better than others in BNI, and not every chapter works for everyone. It is important that you visit several chapters to locate the one that is most suited to your business.
Rileyguide.com is a resource worth mentioning that has an extensive list of networking groups in the United States for small business. Many of the networking groups listed are featured on the World Wide Web. However the list also features many brick and mortar organizations that small business can fraternize with and benefit from. If you are a woman, there are multiple resources for you to use for your networking. QuintCareers.com has a comprehensive list of organizations throughout the United States.
Have you ever attended a networking event where you collected a multitude of business cards? When you went through the business cards the next day, could you remember who many or any of them were? You don’t want to be “just another business card.” Instead make your encounters meaningful and memorable. Share personal experiences from your real world encounters. Before giving them one, write a little note on the back of your business card in regards to the experience you shared. You want to make a lasting impression. Take your time; don’t just rush around the room to meet as many people as you can. They will forget you.
Be a Good Listener
Anyone can talk about their business, but the key to learning what those you are networking with want, is to ask open ended questions and then really listen. You want to keep your colleague talking. Use things that they say in the conversation to show that you are listening. Ask their name and then use it. Find out what the other person does. People love to talk about themselves, and it will give you time to understand their needs and how you may be of service to them.
Follow-up is so very important for any business. When you connect with someone, it is imperative that you follow-up quickly and efficiently with every lead no matter how large or small it may seem. If someone shows interest and asks you to call, be sure and call when you say you are going to. When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them. Efficient follow-up will show that you are professional, courteous of peoples’ time and respectful of their reputations. If you tell someone you are going to get information into the mail for them, then make this a priority. If someone has to wait too long, they will loose interest.
Networking is about giving and receiving. It is about building trust and working relationships. To be successful at business networking, you need to keep a positive attitude. Professionals do not like to be around unhappy people. Always try to be in a good mood before you talk to someone and keep smiling the entire time. Nobody likes to be rejected, but if you don’t at least try then you may lose out on a big opportunity. And remember to always “Dress for Success.” Dress as you would if you were meeting your biggest client. A sharp, neat, clean-cut and coordinated look is sure to bring attention your way. Finding the right business contacts is key to the success of your business. Networking, by far, is the best way to meet new people with which you can build long lasting business relationships.