Feb 25, 201311:35 AMThe Bottom Line
with contributors from Associated Bank
Maximizing your business networking opportunities
(page 1 of 2)
In today’s ultracompetitive world, an effective business networking strategy can mean the difference between success and failure. Networking is more than just having business cards available to hand out. It’s a developed skill that builds off your professional contacts to help you connect with potential clients, referral sources, or industry partners.
Your ability to network successfully can yield future client relationships, as well as develop your professional profile and reputation. Effective business networking is a skill that takes time, energy, and commitment to develop successfully. The following steps will outline how to improve and maximize your networking efforts in today’s business world.
Determine what kind of networking is best for you
As with anything you do in business, your networking strategy should have a mission and purpose. Generally, the mission of networking is to build relationships with professional contacts that can yield opportunities for both parties. Yet in the era of electronic communication, teleconferencing, and virtual meetings, it is hard to build a genuine connection. This is when we can learn from the past – going “old school” and realizing the power of a face-to-face meeting, an introductory handshake, and an in-person interaction.
Getting back to the basics of networking can often have the biggest effect. Some ideas include the following:
- Build your visibility within your community by regularly attending events hosted at local churches, colleges, and universities or engaging with boards of directors at nonprofit organizations throughout your city.
- Look into business events hosted by your local chamber of commerce and other professional groups, such as weekday socials and lunch-and-learn sessions.
Learn how to network
Attending events is the first step, but to maximize your presence at the events, there are few guidelines to follow along the way.
Before you network:
- Be prepared, plan your actions, and determine what it is that you want to accomplish during the event.
- Develop an “elevator speech.” This speech gives you an opportunity to quickly describe your professional background and what your company does and to share reasons why a contact could benefit from networking with you. This is where having a networking strategy mission and purpose will come into play. When practiced and refined, your 15-second elevator speech can be very effective in all networking situations.
While you network:
- During networking events, listening is the most important skill. It is not about you, but about meeting them. Listen intently and key in on their business expertise and experience. Consider writing important information you learn in a small notebook or on the back of their business cards.
- Approach as many new contacts as possible, even if their professional background doesn’t initially appear to have a direct connection with your business.
- If there seem to be future professional opportunities, try to request a follow-up discussion in order to more fully develop this new connection.
After you network:
- Review event materials, networking notes, and new business cards promptly following each event. Fill in the gaps with additional details for future reference and prioritize your new connections to determine whom you should follow up with.
- Be prompt in your follow-up after a meeting. This could be as simple as a quick email, which ensures an exchange of contact information and helps initiate an ongoing conversation.