November 9th, 2015 : Bonnie Staring
We’ve all heard that great networking can lead to great strides for you and your business, but how do you know if you’re networking is effective?
“Think about how much time you start at ground zero,” suggests Lynne O’Connor, career coach and founder of Advanced Career Coaching Inc. “Well-networked entrepreneurs can check in with like-minded individuals to share ideas, gain advice and benefit from each other.”
To help you make the most out of your networking opportunities, O’Connor suggests using these strategies:
- Treat networking as an investment
Develop a networking plan along with your business plan, and use it to monitor and evaluate your progress. “Networking shouldn’t be another job you have; it should fit in with what you’re already doing,” explains O’Connor.
Not sure what to include in your plan? Think about who you’d like to meet, who you’d like to do business with, what you’d like to learn more about and how you can help other business owners. Your answers will help you determine where to focus your networking efforts and create measurable goals you can assess throughout the year.
- Know what to say
Effective networkers focus on making great connections instead of trying to shake every person’s hand, but even extroverts can find themselves tongue-tied at times. Preparing what to say ahead of time will help you appear polished and professional.
“Have a short elevator pitch at the ready, so you can explain who you are and what you do in a relaxed manner,” says O’Connor. Have a list of open-ended questions to ask – such as “What did you think about the speaker?” or “How did you learn about this event?” – to keep the conversation going.
- Plan ahead
There’s more to networking than showing up for an event. Before the occasion, check online for a guest list or to see if other people have indicated that they’re attending on social media. Also, let others know you’ll be attending with a post or a tweet.
“If you see that someone you want to meet is attending, do some research online to learn more about them ahead of time,” suggests O’Connor. “It’s one of the main rules of networking: know something about the person you’re talking to. It’ll also make it easier for you to find common ground.”
- Think outside your industry
As tempting as it is to stay within your comfort zone, explore connecting with others outside of your type of business. “There’s a natural network that forms around your company with untapped entry points that are easy to leverage,” says O’Connor. “Think beyond your suppliers, vendors and customers to other industries and services and providers.” Although these people may deal in a completely different business sector, they’re still business owners who have to manage operations, customers, HR, a website and other areas, just like you.
“Accessing people outside your industry can be reviving and revitalizing. It gives you completely different parameters and frames of reference to look at problems and solutions in a new way,” explains O’Connor.
- It’s about giving, not getting
Approaching networking with a “What can I do for you?” attitude can make all the difference. “People want to benefit from the research you’ve done and the expertise you have,” says O’Connor. “If the person you’re speaking with mentions that he or she is thinking about revamping the company website and you’ve recently done that, share what you learned and offer advice based on your experience.” Actively listen – there are always opportunities to help another entrepreneur learn from your mistakes and successes.
No matter where your networking takes you, remember to focus on the quality of your connections, not the quantity. “Networking should be personal, not transactional,” says O’Connor.