There's so much buzz about business networking that you might think that it's modern man's greatest invention. You hear so much about it that some people have almost come to regard it as a bad thing, as some sort of necessary evil.
With that cultural shift in mind, you should remember two important things about business networking.
First, business networking is nothing new. It's just that the Internet age offers new networking tools. In fact, people have been networking as long as they've been communicating with one another. Business networking simply refers to building and cultivating relationships with people of similar interests in ways that can benefit all parties. When early tribes swapped information about great hunting spots or fresh water sources, they were networking.
A few decades ago, when people started out and were told, "It's not what you know that counts; it's whom you know," that was a nod to the importance of business networking. Whenever people gather for Chamber of Commerce socials, join professional associations, go to conventions, or ask friends for introductions or recommendations, they're networking.
Many people network to get leads for new business, but networking can also help you find a job, change careers, hire good employees, sell products, improve your business practices or accomplish any number of professional goals.
Today's professionals use traditional forms, but they also have other choices for business networking. They might join groups, attend networking events or network in online forums.
The second thing to remember about 21st century business networking is that it's only as good as you make it. Whether it's schmoozing over wine and cheese or keeping up with contacts on a Web site, networking can be a waste of time if done incorrectly. Trading business cards with dozens of people, sending out mass e-mail blasts to everyone you know, telling everyone at a gathering about yourself or racking up hundreds of friends on Facebook may not accomplish much.
Business Networking Groups
Remember that everyone has a network -- even if you don't join groups set up for that purpose. You have relationships with people who might help you with your business goals (and whom you might help in return). Your relatives and neighbors are part of your network. So are people you meet at the gym, on the sidelines at children's ballgames, at church or just about anywhere you get to know people one-on-one.
Various groups that may not list business networking as their main goal can help you develop relationships. The Chamber of Commerce, Jaycees and other civic clubs offer ample networking opportunities. Local, regional and national professional and trade organizations for specific industries offer great networking opportunities at conventions and workshops and through e-mail lists and online forums. These associations may seek you out, and it's easy enough to find them online. Groups sometimes spring up when a number of colleagues in the same field find themselves out of work.
There are also groups designed just for business networking. Your area may have groups for professional women, people in marketing, young professionals, aspiring entrepreneurs or groups with other common interests. Some combine social gatherings with business networking. Many stage regular networking events in which people mingle, meet and share contact information.
Different groups work well for different people; they may work for you at various different stages in your career as your needs and goals change.
Meeting people face to face is important. But you can also expand your business network through social networking. Keep reading to find out how.
Social Networking for Business
Online social networking sites have taken business networking to a new level. Often, people find that using social networking sites makes it easy to stay in touch with business contacts. These sites make it simple to reconnect with people you've lost track of. And they provide a natural way to expand your circle of contacts by establishing relationships with friends of friends.
Many business people put the popular, general social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to good use. Other sites, such as LinkedIn, offer social networking targeted more to business connections. Ryze, Ning, Meetup and other Web sites provide business-oriented social networking and help professionals develop their own networks online. Some people also make good use of blogs -- their own, or someone else's -- for networking.
Business executives recognize the value of social networking. Some have even started their own networks. General Electric, for example, recently started MarkNet to link its 5,000 marketing professionals around the world [source: Liguori].
Social networking sites can be valuable. They help you reach out to people at your convenience, without having to attend events or meetings. Communicating on Facebook or LinkedIn is a lot less stressful than trying to strike up a conversation with someone you barely know. These sites make it easy to connect with people no matter where they are. They can be a good way to get the word out about developments in your business.
But good business networking shouldn't begin and end with online social networking. Those who study such things say that social networking sites enhance but don't replace face-to-face networking. Follow-up is important. Relationships must be nurtured.
If all you do is tweet about yourself or your business on Twitter, or post about yourself or your products on Facebook, you're not going to accomplish much. People may think you're self-centered and ignore you. Having hundreds of online "friends" doesn't mean much, either. A network isn't worth much if it isn't built on a genuine relationship and mutual trust.
To be worth the time and effort, business networking must produce results. Networking should help you reach your business goals. If that's going to happen, you need to keep in mind some basic networking guidelines, whether you're networking in the flesh or in cyberspace.
Read on for useful suggestions.
Business Networking Tips
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.
For more employment and business information, see the links on the next page.
- Caskey, Bill. "Expert Advice on Business Networking and Tips on Developing Your Networking Skills." (Sept. 3, 2010)http://www.businessnetworkingadvice.com/
- Cook, Charlie. "Business Networking to Increase Profits." Charlie Cook's Marketing for Success. (Sept. 3, 2010)http://www.marketingforsuccess.com/ic/networking/business-networking/
- Cook, Charlie. "National Networking Groups and Resources." Charlie Cook's Marketing for Success. (Sept. 8, 2010)http:www.marketingforsuccess.com/networking-national/
- Curtis, Gordon S. Well Connected: An Unconventional Guide to Building Genuine, Effective Business Relationships. Jossey Bass. Wiley. San Francisco, 2010.
- DC Works. "Do This, Not That for Networking Success." (Sept. 2, 2010)http://www.dcworks.info/2010/06/do-this-not-that-for-netowrking-success/
- Ferrazzi, Keith. Never Eat Alone. Doubleday. New York, 2010.
- Ferrazzi, Keith. Who's Got Your Back? Broadway Books. Random House. New York 2009.
- Katcher, Bruce L. "Seven Ways to Maximize the Value of Networking Meetings." Galt Global Review. (Sept. 3, 2010) http://www.galtglobalreview.com/article.php?id=76
- Misner, Ivan. "What Is Business Networking, Anyway?" Entrepreneur. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/printthis/196758.html
- RoAne, Susan. "The Art of Savvy Networking." (Sept. 3, 2010)http://ww.susanroane.com/articles/art-of-savvy-networking.html
- "What Is Networking?" Rochester Women's Network. (Sept. 3, 2010)http://www.rwn.org/Misc.asp
- Zack, Devora. "Networking for People Who Hate Networking." Forbes.com. (Sept. 3, 2010)http://www.forbes.com/2010/09/01/networking-career-communication-forbes-woman-leadership-work.html
- Zeller, George. "Is Your Networking Effective?" Nonprofit Jobs Cooperative. NewEnglandJobs.org. (Sept. 2, 2010)http://www.opnocsne.org/.../employment_advice_articles.htm