5 powerful ways to maintain business networking relationships
Many entrepreneurs, particularly those who work in a service-based business, discover the best source of new clients is their personal and business network. A referral from a trusted colleague, advisor, or friend can open doors for a professional service provider such as a fledgling CPA firm, consultant, or marketer. A well-networked entrepreneur often has access to speaking opportunities, invitations to exclusive events, access to social media influencers, and the ability to get answers to their toughest questions or advice from knowledgeable professionals. However, building a strong business social network can be challenging. It’s easy to get too busy to maintain relationships beyond the business networking event. Unfortunately, that can put a small business owner in the position of feeling uncomfortable about reaching out to his or her network during a time of need.
These 5 powerful business networking tips can help you maintain strong business relationships, enhance your credibility as an expert in your field, and provide many opportunities to collaborate while increasing your business.
Be yourself. There is no one specific “right” way to network. You might know other business owners who have achieved a great deal of success by joining their local chamber of commerce, or using social media, or by becoming a member of a specific networking group. If those networking opportunities don’t fit your personality or your schedule, don’t worry. Do what works for you. I once worked with a CPA who was a huge rainmaker for his firm. He got nearly all his referrals through his kids’ hockey team. The parents included a number of people who were excellent prospects and they had a lot of time to talk while hanging out at the rink. He made friends first and put networking second. The other parents trusted him and when they needed a CPA, of course they turned to him. I know another entrepreneur who built her business by serving on nonprofit boards. She spent a lot of time in meetings with other influential people, working with them to achieve a common goal. The other board members were able to see what she knew and when they needed services like hers, she was the first person to get the call. When I owned my business, I landed one of my biggest accounts ever thanks to a conversation I had with another mom at a 5-year old’s birthday party. You never know.
Don’t expect instant results. Networking is a process. Building a relationship, even a business relationship takes time. Remind yourself that you will walk out of most networking meetings with no prospects. That’s ok. Take the pressure off any one single event so you can relax and enjoy the opportunity to meet new people. The magic of networking will come eventually.
Be a helpful resource. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “You get what you give.” Nowhere is that more true than in a networking situation. You will gain more by focusing on how you can help others than if you focus on how you can gain. One of my favorite ways to help others is to introduce the people I meet to other people I know when I think they can benefit from a mutual acquaintance. If you are not sure how you can help someone, ask. I like to end networking meetings by asking, “How can I help you?” Let the other person tell you what they need. Once you know how you can help, you will find opportunities to assist them. Then, you can tell the other person how they can help you. Be prepared to explain the problems you solve or the complaints you often hear when someone becomes a new client or customer. That information will help your new referral source know when they meet someone who could be a great contact for you.
Follow up. Lots of people make promises. Few people keep them. If you say you are going to do something, make sure it actually happens. That small step will set you apart. If you don’t have any action steps after a meeting, simply sending a follow up note to thank the other person for their time is a nice gesture. Want to really make an impression? Skip the email and send a handwritten note instead. You’ll be noticed.
Schedule it. It’s easy to become “too busy” to network, especially if you don’t particularly like networking. However, inconsistent networking will yield inconsistent results. If you network when you have time, you’ll find your business suffering from peaks and valleys in sales. Make networking an important item on your to-do list. Set a reasonable goal and stick to it. Even if it’s just one coffee meeting or networking event every week, it will add up.
Developing your business network can be the the difference between marginal and great success for your small company. Look for opportunities, prepare, and then just show up. For tips on preparing for your upcoming networking opportunities, be sure to check out How to write the perfect elevator pitch for your small business (and adapt it for referral sources) and You can write an elevator pitch for your small business.