One of the keys to running a successful business has always been networking – getting out there and connecting with other professionals, usually resulting in a mutually beneficial relationship. Networking in the past often meant long trips to conferences and business meetings and endless hours on flights across the country or even the globe. Thankfully, the onset of the Internet has made networking accessible and easy, even for small business owners with full schedules.
…collaboration means that you’ll always have qualified people to bounce ideas off of…
So, what are some of the benefits of networking? Well, networking within your profession can greatly improve your business’ efficiency, as you can work together to figure out solutions to common problems you all share. In addition, the potential for collaboration means that you’ll always have qualified people to bounce ideas off of, and usually be able to find help when a project might grow too big for you to handle.
Outside of your profession, the people in your network can help you gain insight into other markets, find potential investors for your business, or even become a partner in a new venture.
These are, of course, just a few examples of the benefits a healthy network can provide. The question is, how do you go about creating that network? Here are a few tips to help get you started…
1. Create a Presence
Before you start networking, make sure you’ve got something to talk about. An online presence isn’t a difficult thing to create, but it does require work and attention. Establishing yourself as an expert in your field, whether it be through your website, through a blog, or even through being a constant source of help in industry-related forums or LinkedIn Groups can help give you the kind of reputation that will make online networking easier. When people can see for themselves that you know what you’re doing, your network will grow quickly.
2. Don’t Spread Too Thin
There are a ton of social networks, and the number is growing every day. Sometimes, there can be too much focus on joining as many networks as possible, but that plan can easily backfire. If you’re going to be building a professional network, you should start with LinkedIn and spread out from there, with your first stops probably being Facebook and Twitter. If your work involves an international focus, take a look at the top social networks for the countries you target for a more global reach.
After that, only expand to places that you plan on keeping up with. If the first contact someone has with you is a profile that hasn’t been updated in months, you could miss out on a potentially great contact.
3. Treat People Like People
While having a huge network of friends and colleagues can be wonderful, be sure to keep in mind that all those names are attached to people. Leveraging your network when you need help or information is all well and good, but if you’re constantly in “take” mode and trying to use your contacts to further your own goals, you’ll quickly find your network shrinking. Take time out to try to help other people in your network as well.
4. Don’t Overshare
The term “friend request” may be something of a misnomer when it comes to professional networking. In most cases, the people you’re adding on Facebook aren’t becoming your friend, and you need to remain conscious of that when you’re posting content. At best, many people you include in your network won’t be interested in your personal life. At worst, poor choices when it comes to posting may actually cause people to unfriend you.
5. Give Value Freely
Your network may be a source of incredible value for you, but keep in mind that you need to be giving just as much (if not more) value back. Building a mutually beneficial relationship is a much better course of action than exploiting your contact list. If someone in your network needs help, help them! Take pride in being the person that people come to for answers – and don’t worry about giving those answers away. When the time comes where you’re the one that needs help, you can bet that your network will be there for you.
6. Meet In Person
Although the internet has become an excellent way to build a large network, the simple fact is that nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. A great way to go about this is to attend a conference or meetup that someone in your network is going to, or even setting up a meeting to discuss possible business. Remember that this is a professional contact and not a buddy, and be sure to set up a meeting that reflects that fact.