Networking is a proven strategy for building your career, your business and your credibility. Experienced business people know that anything is possible through networking. Because it is a very creative process, it’s one of the easiest and most effective ways to market yourself (and your business as a successful entrepreneur).
The key to networking is cultivating relationships and sharing ideas, information and resources. This is a two-step and two-way process: the first part is to let people know what you do and why they should come to you to do business. Learning how to “toot your own horn” – sharing your expertise and what you offer – in a clear, assertive way is essential. The second part is to listen to what others have to share –their area of expertise and the products and services they have to offer. Your intent should always be to set up a “win-win” situation where all parties benefit from the exchange, whether immediately or sometime in the future.
In setting up your two-way street, the universal law of giving, as referred to by Deepak Chopra in his Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, can be seen in action through effective networking. “The universe operates through dynamic exchange . . . giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of energy. In our willingness to give that which we seek, we keep the abundance of the universe circulating in our lives.”
At Business Connections (a local County-wide networking group of women business owners and business-owners marketing to women), members are given the opportunity to participate in “30-Second Spots,” at every meeting. This is an opportunity to present yourself and what you have to offer through your business in a very concise, direct way. Not only do you benefit from hearing other members give their promotional spot, each time you do your own 30-Second Spot you improve with practice, practice, practice.
NAFE, the National Association for Female Executives, a national networking association, says the “two key words for successful networking are planning and personal.” That means planning for the results you want, and making contacts for professional and personal gain. Networking has to be planned to be effective – it doesn’t just happen – and quality networking only happens when supportive personal relationships are built.
In reality, networking (relationship building) is a 24-hour-a-day process. When you are consciously looking to expand your network, you will be most effective when you are focusing on people who already have the results you want, as well as paying attention to the formal and informal networks you can join.
Remember that networking itself may not provide immediate benefits. It may take years to see the results of your networking efforts, or you could be pleasantly surprised at any moment by an important phone call from someone you recently connected with. The timing is always less important than the relationship
So what are the important steps to creating a warmly successful networking relationship? First, take time to prepare for your upcoming meetings and events. Realize every event is an opportunity to network. You will always get more of what you are focused on, so make the most of every group situation, whether it is a familiar group you've been meeting with for years, or a totally new group you are walking into for the first time.
It's also important to remember the number one basic networking principle: we are all equal. Whether you are currently ‘in transition’ or the CEO of an expanding business, you have something of value to share with others. Make sure your “attitude is right” – that you are excited about your opportunity to meet new people, and then be open to the whatever shows up. In a formal setting or a business networking event, bring your most current promotional materials to share.
Even in an informal setting it's good to have extra business cards with you at all times. You never know where your next best lead is going to come from, it could be in a coffee shop or on a bus, or even at your son's baseball game.
So, take the time to develop your “art of networking,” and realize it’s an organic and creative process. Each of us has wonderfully unique gifts to share with others. Move beyond your shyness and take full advantage of all the networking opportunities that come your way–opportunities to promote yourself and your business, but most importantly, the opportunity to build relationships of value.