If you learn nothing else about business networking, remember that it's a two-way street. Networking is exchanging -- ideas, referrals, information, empathy or whatever you need. Successful networking builds relationships. You trust your network to help you when it can, and its members trust you to help them.
Whether you're working the room at an event or posting on a social networking site, if your only topics for discussion are yourself and your business, you're probably wasting your time.
Here are some ways to make networking work for you:
General rules include:
- Develop a network before you need it. Build relationships before you're out of work or in search of new clients.
- Stay in touch. Maintain your network even when you don't have a specific need.
- Cultivate respect and trust.
- Have clear goals. Know what you hope to gain.
- Know what you have to offer others, and reach out to them before they ask.
- Do your research. Learn all you can about your contacts and their interests and needs.
- Be genuinely interested in getting to know others -- and show your interest. Ask questions.
- If you meet someone, follow up with a note, a call or an e-mail.
- Keep your word. If you say you'll do something, do it. You're not busier than everyone else.
- Be responsive. Answer calls, reply to voice mails and e-mails.
When you meet someone in person, the rules change a little. Here are some tips for face-to-face networking:
- Be polite. Turn off the cell phone. Don't check for messages while talking to someone.
- Have a brief "elevator speech" that tells who you are and what you do. But use it only in a pinch. Real conversation is better.
- Develop a good handshake: firm, but not too firm.
- Get involved. Take leadership roles in organizations and volunteer in the community.
- Prepare. If you're going to a convention, find out who'll be there.
- If you join a networking group, make sure it offers what you're looking for -- referrals, a new career, better business practices or something else.
As social media makes its mark on the business world, people looking for networks need to take note of online social protocol. Just be careful: If you use social networking sites for business purposes, don't let yourself get distracted too easily. In addition, make sure that you don't overdo it online. Don't post something about your business on Facebook every day. People will get annoyed and drop you from their networks.
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