Ah yes, we’re coming to the end of the year and while we’re busy with the frantic pace of holiday celebrations, we are also (hopefully) putting the finishing touches on our marketing and business development plans for 2015.
Many of us are taking a long look at 2014 and seeing which initiatives were successful and which weren’t, where our time and money were well spent and where we could have done better. We’ll capitalize on the good and eliminate the bad. For certain, business networking will show up somewhere in our plan.
Networking plays an essential role in business development, especially for small to mid-sized companies and professional service providers. There are networking meetings and events morning, noon and night, some free and open to all, and some with a hefty fee and very selective attendance. Regardless of how you have networked in the past, here are some tips that can make your professional networking more effective going forward:
It shouldn’t come as a surprise but networking is a contact sport that involves much more than simply gathering cards at events and then letting them become obsolete in your desk drawer. Networking is about building relationships. It takes time and patience. Follow-up and follow-through are essential to earn the respect and trust of your networking contacts. This trust and respect are needed before introductions and referrals can be made.
Select the professional networking groups and events that make sense for your business and your schedule. Not every group and meeting will be right for you and although you can meet good networking contacts anywhere, it makes more sense to be selective about where you spend your time and money. Make a networking plan for 2015 and decide which groups you wish to join and what events you want to attend with the goal of giving and getting as much from these efforts as possible. Spreading yourself too thin oftentimes yields reduced results.
At a networking event, work the room effectively. Smile, be personable and don’t spend all of your time conversing with people that you know well. You have a limited amount of time and it is best to use it wisely.
The old adage “givers get” is true but only up to a point. We all know people to whom we have given many referrals only to receive nothing in return. In this case it is perfectly okay to ask for introductions and if none are forthcoming you might decide to refer your contacts to another trusted networking contact in the same business.
Don’t think short-term. Of course you can be incredibly lucky and get business the very first time you attend a meeting or an event but that’s not too likely to happen. Most business networking success occurs weeks, months or even years after the initial meeting and if you give up too soon you won’t get any return on the time you’ve spent networking.
The year 2015 is right around the corner and networking should play an integral role in your business building efforts. Make your plan now and see it generate results in the year ahead.