What To Do If You Just DON'T LOVE Business Networking?
Some people are naturally extroverted and love business networking events. There are just as many people who may be introverted and don’t get how networking adds value to their business. I am here to tell you, that networking events aren’t a waste of time. They are very necessary for people who own businesses, online or offline. But, it is called net 'working’, and whether you like it or not, it involves time, effort and work. And the return on time and resource investment may take several months before you see a favorable gain or result from an event.
If networking is done correctly it’s not just about the people in the network, it flows to the people they know, and organizations they belong to, as well. Networking is about building relationships and trust over time with other business people and potential clients and/or customers.
You don’t have to love networking to see the benefits:
- Increases your business credibility.
- Get referrals from relationships built.
- Gain resources for services or products that you don’t offer yourself.
- Cross promotion partnerships
Belonging to business organizations such as your local chamber or trade groups can increase your business credibility. Many potential clients or customers view membership in these business groups as a sign that you’re an established business and accepted by your community and industry.
Networking can produce results for your business and others. Joining a business networking group will help more people know about you and your business. After a while, you can gain trust, and build relationships that will result in a better chance that they will either work with you or refer someone else to you. A good example is if you own or manage a hotel, you might focus your marketing on the individuals or groups who will be traveling to your town for leisure or business. But through networking, you can discover additional opportunities, such as other groups or organizations to which the other networking members belong. A referral from one of these members to their organizations may at least put your business on the potential short list of lodging possibilities above the host of other businesses who are advertising locally only.
Stop selling yourself at these events and start listening to others and you will be amazed at the outcome and what you learn. You aren’t only looking for potential customers at networking groups, you are also looking for potential resources to be able to offer your existing clients.
What if you own a flower shop, and you sell flowers to individuals and businesses? Perhaps you will meet someone who custom makes gift baskets that you could offer in your shop. Or perhaps, a winery whom you could refer business from your anniversary clients. Or the winery might want to supply champaign as a side item to your bouquets or be willing to showcase your floral arrangements in their lobby. There are an unlimited amount of possibilities if you just stop and think about how you could help someone else to showcase something that will be considered an additional item and natural addition to your product or services.
There is strength in numbers. And especially in networking, you can consider events where you can work with other businesses to advertise together, and share the cost of holding the event that benefits all. Small businesses should look for great opportunities that bring large groups of people to town.
Pooling advertising dollars is a great way to get visitors and new customers to take notice in a way that a single business could possibly not afford to do alone. Say taking out a full-page ad in a Chamber of Commerce book is $900…and $1250 for a two-page ad. If you get 10 people together…you can break up the ad space in 10 equal parts…5 on each page for only $120 each. Most generally…the chamber would probably offer 1/5 ads for $200 or more each. But this way you save money…and get more people interested in visiting several businesses within the same location.
A business who sells coffee could organize an event where other businesses could come and showcase their wares…such as donuts, pottery, writers groups, or local artists. As you can probably see, networking is about building relationships and looking for connections that may or may not be outright obvious…but that can work for everyone involved.
How to get the most out of networking
You aren’t the life of the party, so look for others who may be as uncomfortable as you are. Make it a point to introduce yourself to those who are standing alone. You should make it a point to talk to them and ask them about themselves. They will be happy that you approached them and broke the uncomfortable tension. and may share some very valuable information in return for your friendliness.
If you have been a part of the group for a while, be sure that you make an effort to meet new people and include others in conversations. In other words, don’t be a networking snob. It's not productive to only associate with the few people that you already know and are comfortable with while leaving others out of the conversation. If you are the extrovert, remember that you will stick out like a sore thumb if you try too hard to sell yourself and come on too strong. Take time to talk to people and spend time listening to them. You can’t build relationships if you spend your time giving out and collecting business cards
. If you meet and get to know three or four new people during an event, you can consider it a success!
How about some do's and don'ts
Focus on the quality of the connections you meet during these events. Over time people will become much more trusting of you. DON'T
run from person to person giving out your business card, it’s not a competition. The person with the most cards at the end of the meeting doesn’t win. DO have professional business cards printed.
I find it best to ask for other people’s business cards before I leave the conversation, and they usually return the favor and ask for yours. But if not, you still have the upper hand and are able to follow up afterward.
After the event is when the real ‘work’ of networking begins. Follow up with those you meet. I usually try to send an email or even send out a postcard within 24-48 hours to have the best chance of being remembered. Also, I try to let them know pretty soon into the conversation where we met. I hate trying to guess where I know someone from, as I am sure others are too.
Networking will produce results over time. It might take a while before people feel comfortable with offering you a referral. Not all members will be able to help you. Nor will you be able to help them but you never know what future potential exists. The more people who know about your business, the better chance you have that they will work with you. Or they may refer someone else to you. You don’t have to love networking…but it does work.