When I was younger, I thought networking was a strange concept.
I had this image in my head that business people would gather in large conference rooms, talk about incomprehensible metrics and numbers, and exchange business cards. To rub elbows with titans of industry; that's what I thought networking was supposed to be.
It turns out I was very wrong.
Instead, networking is simply building lasting relationships with other professionals outside your normal scope of influence. These relationships can be mutually beneficial and valuable and result in deep friendships.
As a business owner, how can you network effectively? How do you ensure that you see fruit from the relationships you create over time?
Create a Clear Plan for Success
Whenever you enter into a new adventure, whether it's something in your business or personal life, it's essential to define what success looks like.
When we clearly define success, we can measure the impact we're making toward our goals. As entrepreneurs, when we get stuck on a challenge or problem, we should be able to identify how our efforts are moving the needle toward success or failure. Having a clear plan helps define our direction when we're feeling lost.
When entering any new situation where we've defined success, we can work backward from our end goal to determine our path forward.
To network effectively, you should clearly define the type of people you're trying to meet. Are you looking for small business owners, key executives in top companies, local customers, or someone else? Defining what you're looking for allows you to also understand where to find it!
Once you know the type of people or people groups that you're hoping to network with, you can quickly figure out where to go. Seek to understand where these groups of people tend to congregate! A city's Chamber of Commerce is often a popular destination for local businesses. Professional service designations like attorneys and tax professionals often host networking events for their members. LinkedIn is an excellent resource for directly connecting with professionals as well!
Define the people you want to meet and then define a strategy for how you want to connect with them.
Ask for What You Need
In professional networking groups, it's prevalent to see business owners throw out blanket statements about the people they're hoping to work with. "I'm a business attorney looking to meet with small business owners," or "I'm a tax professional looking to do business with individuals."
These types of statements are too broad and ineffective. They don't establish any evidence about the type of person you're looking to meet, how you can help them, or why someone would want to help you connect with them!
Instead of casting a wide net, it's far better to be specific.
The more specific you can be when connecting with other business professionals, the easier you'll be amassing more customers. If you're networking with individuals who can refer you to the customers you want to gain, it's your duty to define what you're looking for.
Consistent networking efforts create a ripple effect: as you network with one person or a group of people, they begin to understand and know your business on a deeper level. You're essentially replicating yourself in other people!
These people are equipped to venture out into their social circles and recommend your products or services when they see a need arise - creating more opportunities for you.
If you can communicate the problem you solve and define who can benefit from your solution, you'll create an unstoppable force.
Networking is About Relationships, Not Advantages
"Today, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others," says Adam Grant, Author of the New York Times bestseller Give and Take. "It turns out that at work, most people operate as either takers, matchers, or givers."
What's the most effective impact on your success? Being a giver.
When we intentionally create trusting, meaningful relationships through activities like networking, we have a unique opportunity to give to others. As it turns out, givers often achieve "extraordinary results" in their careers.
While some seek to only receive from others, many people are simply willing to help when asked. Effective networking for your small business requires you to see connections as opportunities for relationships rather than advantages.
Entrepreneurship can be an incredibly lonely path. By creating relationships with other professionals around you and seeking to give rather than take, you'll find that your business will grow even faster.