Cultivate Your Network


Networking is one of those things that we know we need to continually do, but sometimes we’re just not sure how to go about doing it or how we can fit it into our busy schedules. But if you do network, you will realize fairly quickly that it can be an invaluable marketing strategy, especially in today’s economy. In fact, having a system of proven and effective networking habits in place is often the difference between success and failure. If you have a small business or a small budget for marketing, networking is essential to build your business. You can create a priceless, word of mouth referral network for basically just the cost of your time. And now you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home or office to network.

Welcome to the world of internet social networking. Sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, to name a few, allow you to network online from anywhere in the world. We could spend a week discussing the intricacies of networking online, but my goal is just to expose you to these sites to get you thinking about different ways to network. The social networking sites allow you to find old friends, work colleagues and business contacts that you may have lost touch with over the years. This is a great way to introduce your business or service to someone who is already familiar with you and would be happy to refer you to their contacts. While I like the convenience of social networking sites, I still value the traditional networking meetings where you get to meet new people face to face.

There are three important factors that you should be aware of when building your network; the number of people in each of your various networks; the quality of your relationships with those people; and how frequently you interact with them. Networking builds trust between individuals and often that trust is passed along to a third referred party. Let’s face it; we all know that people like to do business with people they know, like and trust. However, if you don’t know someone that can help you with a particular need that you have, what do you do? You ask your friends and colleagues for a referral. Based on the trust that you have for your friend, you will almost always accept their recommendation.

The networks we create become highly valued resources that we develop through personal and professional contacts. These resources include ideas, knowledge, information, opportunities, contacts and, of course, referrals. Those who take the time to build networks become successful much faster than those who do not; they get more clients and customers, larger sales and grow their business exponentially. Typically, they are more influential, effective and happier than those who are unwilling or unable to benefit from the power of networking.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard so many people say, “I don’t know how to network” or “I’m not any good at networking” or most commonly, “I don’t have time to network”. These people truly do not understand the value of networking and how crucial it is to building your business. Networking is not rocket science and anyone can do it. Even if you’re shy or not very good at small talk, there’s a secret to successful networking. If you can ask someone a question, you can network. Really, it’s as easy as that. People love to talk about themselves, so if you can engage someone by asking some simple questions, you’ll be a big hit! I’ll even give you a few to get you started. Here are some of my favorites that I use all the time:

1. How long have you been attending this networking meeting?
2. How is your business going?
3. Have you been affected by the economy (this is very timely)?
4. What other marketing strategies do you use to get clients?
5. What products or services do you provide in your business?
6. Where do you find your clients, what geographic radius do they come from?
7. How can I help you grow your business?
8. What needs or problems do you have in your business right now?

That ought to keep you talking for at least thirty minutes, but another key to strategic networking is that you keep your conversations to ten to fifteen minutes or so, so that both of you can mingle and meet other guests. If you think you don’t have time to network, figure out a way where you can carve out just one hour a month to go to a networking function. Many seasoned networkers participate in some type of networking at least an hour or two per week, but if you are just getting started, one hour a month is better than nothing. In this day and age, many people hardly know their own neighbors let alone the local business people in town. More than ever, networking is critical to success in any endeavor.