When I first started out in business, I truly underestimated the importance of building relationships with other business professionals.
To be honest, I was petrified of walking into a room full of people I didn’t know and would do anything to avoid putting myself in that situation. Yet a few years (and hundreds of networking events) later, I have developed a passion for meeting new people and expanding my professional network.
While marketing and advertising certainly have their place in any business strategy, developing rapport with your clients and contacts can be even more valuable. Not only is the rate of referral an indicator of your customer satisfaction, but it is usually much more cost effective than traditional marketing campaigns. Understanding your reason for networking (brand awareness/increase customer base/build partnerships) can also help you to identify which networking events are going to yield relationships that will help to achieve these goals.
Here are my top seven tips for developing an effective professional network:
- 1. Invest time in maintaining your network.
Follow up with your new contacts over a coffee or lunch to find out more about their business and discuss ways you may be able to support each other in business. Touch base regularly with your existing network to stay up-to-date with changes to their professional or personal circumstances.
- 2. Refer business whenever you can.
There is no greater compliment to a business than a referral. Contributing to the growth and success of someone else’s business can be personally rewarding.
- 3. You’re not in it alone.
No matter how anxious you are about turning up at a networking event, there will be someone in the room feeling your pain. Keep an eye out for people arriving on their own and invite people to join in your conversations.
- 4. Be in the right room with the right people.
With so many networking opportunities to choose from, take a strategic approach to scheduling networking events. Identify events and groups that will give you the opportunity to connect and collaborate with your target market and other professionals.
- 5 .Listen first, talk second.
As long as you are talking, you will not learn anything about the other person in the conversation. Listen carefully and ask questions instead ‚Äì don’t be looking around the room for a better offer!
- 6. Online social media reinforces (not replaces) face-to-face networking.
Social media can present unique opportunities to engage with other professionals. Use your Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook profile to engage with your contacts, but also make time to engage in face-to-face networking opportunities.
- 7. Ask for help and support
Your network of ‘experts’ are a great resource when faced with a new business challenge or opportunity. Turn to your contacts for advice, guidance and as a sounding board for new ideas.
I’d love to hear your networking tips and tricks ‚Äì be sure to share in the comments below!
Alison Hough is the Operations Manager at Myrtec, a Newcastle-based IT support organisation. She is a passionate about building business relationships and supporting other business owners to achieve their goals.