What is Business Networking?
Business Networking is an effective method for developing opportunities and contacts, based on referrals and introductions – either face-to-face at events, or by social networking (online).
The principles and techniques of business networking are mostly common sense. Many of the principles apply also to business and your professional relationships generally.
Why should you Network?
Each of you can get something out of networking. What each individual gets out of it will be different and will depend on your circumstances:
For example if you are a Job-Seeker, a Student or a recent graduate you might want to network to find a job However, It’s also a great way to learn more about a particular career choice or company. A contact can share experiences that may give you insider information to help you decide whether a job role might suit you, or a company might be the right fit or even give you an edge at interview.
How to Find Relevant Networking Opportunities
Everyone is anxious about networking if they have never done it before and even if they have done it before, it can take people a while to get comfortable with business networking – however many of these anxieties can be overcome with an organised approach.
Types of Networking Events
There are many different types of networking events (or situations) that you might find yourself in. Yes, there are the large Business Networking Clubs and Groups and Websites, but business networking can be done anywhere.
Events with Common Interests:
- Training Courses
- Chambers of Trade or Commerce
- Societies and Associations
- Lectures and Talks
Other Networking Events:
- Breakfast or Networking Clubs
- Local Networking Events
- Speed Networking
Other Events and Opportunities:
- University Events
- Corporate Hospitality Events
- Public Meetings
- Product Launches
- Festivals and Shows
- Community Events
- Sports Clubs
- Clubs & Societies (Hobbies)
- Business Networking Websites
- Online Forums
- Professional Body Websites
- Special Interest Websites
- Community & Social Websites
What is “Relevant”?
One of the hardest things when starting out is identifying target groups and connections which are relevant to you.
Relevance can be according to several different things such as location, sector, social grouping, trade, academic or technical grouping, specifically organised networking or referral groups or other common interests.
The more relevant the targeting of groups and contacts, the more useful your meetings and referrals will be.
“Hard” Networking VS “Soft” Networking
Hard Networking Groups are where there is a clear agreement that the purpose of networking is to produce business referrals for each other, and Soft Networking Groups are those where a group has no significant aim or expectation of referring business. Usually people who attend ‘informal’ or soft networking groups are looking to avoid the hard sell.
Always be aware of the group’s needs, expectations, rules (official and unofficial), and membership composition (formal or entirely random), and adapt your style and methods accordingly.
Who should I be Networking with?
This will depend on your own aims and what you hope to get out of networking.
Networking will often be with your peers, with your clients and customers and with other business professionals. However, certain non-business professional people can be hugely influential in networks, and greatly trusted because of their neutrality and professional standing
It is unlikely that you will meet these people through conventional business networking, but remember that a network is not only made of professionals and other business-people, and you need to be aware of these non-commercial connections to take advantage of the opportunity when the chance comes.
If you find that your networking is producing very low opportunities for follow-up and referral, you need to change your approach.
Don’t go aimlessly after every networking opportunity which comes your way. Have a plan, a strategy. Decide which sort of groups and contacts will be most helpful for your personal aims but remember that you need to be able to help them, as well as them helping you.
Plan Your Networking
Business networking can take up a lot of time. You need a Networking Strategy to make it as effective as possible.
You can use various tools to manage your networking. Some people use a planner, others prefer a spreadsheet.
It is important to know exactly what you want, because you will be asked and you will need to be able to give a clear answer.
Business networking can be a very enjoyable activity, and for some people can seem a lot more productive than it actually is, so stay mindful of business results and cost-effectiveness. Have some targets and monitor the results. Additionally if you take on too much at the same time you will be spread too thinly, and will be unlikely to make a positive impact in any of them.
Top Quick Tips
Here are quick tips for effective business networking which apply to any sort of business networking:
- Have an Elevator Pitch.
- Differentiate yourself.
- Be Helpful.
- Be Relevant.
- Plan your Networking.
- Follow up. Networking only produces good results when it is followed up.
Further Reading: The Networking Tips List