Networking is the Lifeblood for Long-term Success… and often for short-term survival.
Networking is mostly frowned upon as unnecessary small talk. At times, one of the participants feel like they're speaking with Charlie Brown's teacher as they hear, "wah wah wah wah wah." Is it because people find other people boring? Irrelevant? Or just uninteresting?
Possibly the answer relates to bits and pieces of all three, but maybe it’s that many people just do not like to network. People have different personalities, and while networking is natural to some, others may find it extremely intimidating. Networking skills are, however, crucial to anyone intending to progress whether for career or business development purposes.
There are some who find networking as a practice lacking authenticity... asking for favors, delivering a canned speech, and even trying to prematurely close a deal because someone nodded their head. On the other end of the spectrum, are those that do not believe the goal is to sell, but instead, to collect as many business cards and email addresses as possible. Sadly, they miss the point.
Nevertheless, all are valid points and as the saying goes, “To each their own.” That may be the case, but only if the value proposition to networking is not fully realized and understood. After all, who will participate in, well, almost anything if there’s not some level of value, real or even, perceived? However, the answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?” must be apparent, if not entirely front and center!
What is the value of networking?
"Networking is the sharing of information or services between people, businesses, or groups. It is also a way for individuals to grow their relationships for their job or business. As a result, connections or a network can be built and useful for individuals in their professional or personal lives." Wikipedia
Networking refers to the process by which professionals establish meaningful relationships with one another.
Think of it as creating an invisible web of connections between people with each strand of the web serving as a two-way conductor of information and assistance.
This web is a living entity; it stays alive if continued to be fed by making connections with others and maintaining those connections through continued interaction.
If a connection is made, but interacting ceases, that connection disappears, and the desired web of connections eventually shrinks.
The goal is to have a large, healthy, web of individuals to share information with and tap for assistance when necessary.
The important piece of this to remember is that networking is a two-way street. One does not just approach networking connections when something is needed. Instead, the relationships must be proactively nurtured and maintained over time.
All that said, is there a greater purpose to network for business owners, and especially small business owners that may lack their own resources to which they could turn to for advice, bounce ideas, or just communicate on common issues? Yes, indeed!
We know there are an estimated 28 million small business in the United States and every one of them needs some type of marketing plan. According to our research, if a business just has the funds for one marketing effort, networking provides the greatest return on investment! The average business owner does not have 100 plus hours annually to attend weekly business networking meetings.
However, it still comes down to people, to key personnel of the business, and certainly to the business owner. As such, the tenets of networking remain the same. Although, the value may be greater in the long run for a business than for someone networking to advance their career or to increase their individual salesperson. The reason lies in the potential economic ripple effect by the success of a business.
So, how does a business owner or leader network effectively for the purpose of their business?
It must be understood and appreciated that networking is a process. It consists of personal branding, preparation, acting, and maintenance with process constantly cycling and recycling based upon the development and growth of a personal brand.
The first step of effective networking is to create a personal brand.
When the word “brand” comes to mind, what does it suggest?
“Branding” is used in the world of marketing and sales to help companies effectively sell their products to target audiences.
Now, think of yourself as a brand.
Think of a product you really like and the kinds of messages you see in commercials, social media, etc. from the company that sells that product.
How does the company get across to you the quality of their product?
What is special about that product that makes it different from other products?
What kinds of words and feelings do you associate with that product?
YOU as the Business Owner
A “Personal Brand” for YOU the business owner is the same thing as branding a product, only in this case, you’re the product working for the brand. It comes down to how YOU are marketing YOURSELF to the business world – your potential customers, clients, and yes, your potential trusted advisors!
When creating a personal brand, you need to consider the image you want to present, the messages you want to send, and what makes you special and different from others.
Targeted selling returns higher sales, and in this case, we are targeting your future referral network and potential partners/prospects/employers.
Caution: Keep one important thing in mind – people may have preconceived confidence in a brand, but people buy from people, and people want to do business with people, not brands or companies.
Your thoughts about YOU...
When creating your personal brand, ask yourself:
What are my strengths and what am I already known for?
What am I passionate about and what sets me apart from others?
What would I like to accomplish in my business?
How do I define success?
What do I want people to remember about me?
Personal Brand Exercises
Here are some exercises to get you thinking about your personal brand:
If I had a slogan, it would be: ________________________
If I had a logo, it would look like: _____________________
Some words that describe me are: ___________, ___________ and ___________.
Your Personal Philosophy
Your personal brand is your personal philosophy toward work and professional life. If for a business, it’s your philosophy, not only toward customers and clients but also to vendors and fellow business owners.
Once you have an idea of what your personal brand is, incorporate it into how you speak to others professionally, your personal pitch, your business card, email communications, social media etc.
Your personal brand will continue to evolve and develop, but remember, always be consistent with your messaging so that others remember who you are, what you stand for, and what value you bring to the professional world.
Networking does often take a certain amount of preparation prior to making connections.
When preparing to network, look at and refine your essential networking tools: brochures, flyers, business card, and social media platform.
Know your business brand like the back of your hand. Practice your elevator pitch to succinctly explain your company’s purpose and for whom it benefits.
These essential networking tools should be polished and ready to present when networking.
In today’s world, social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. serve as outlets for individual expression as well as an easy means of connecting with others.
Be mindful of what you are communicating through your social media, intentional about the content you contribute, and vigilant in terms of security.
Social media is also a fantastic networking tool, both for the individual and for a business. But for a business it’s predicated on a personal touch. One that must be seen as such by the target audience.
Think of how many people you are connected to through your social networks online.
Each one of those first, second, even third-degree connections could be a useful networking contact.
The key to online social networking is to monitor your presence, contribute professionally to the online community, and connect while communicating your personal brand.
A Strong Personal Profile
Your personal profile is a snapshot and summary of you that is available to EVERYONE online.
Ensure that your personal brand is consistent with your business brand, especially if your business website has an About Us section.
Because privacy is never a guarantee online, you must be mindful and intentional with the content you post.
You do not have to have a profile on every social media website out there, but LinkedIn is mandatory for professional pursuits. It should also be the case for businesses and brands by developing a Business Page on LinkedIn.
A step further is the development of a LinkedIn Newsletter. However, it’s always best to launch from your personal profile and then have it shared from the business profile. This is in line with people desiring to do business with people. Newsletters and blogs essentially are additional forms of networking and even more so as interaction occurs.
For your professional profile, include sharp profile and cover photos, an inviting subject line about YOU, a detailed summary, and other relevant information regarding your business experience to make it easy for others to search for and find you.
Whether for an individual with personal objectives or for a business owner trying to increase awareness of his or her brand, networking is the lifeblood for a long-term success while also providing bursts of life that may be necessary for short-term survival.
It's often been said that one's net worth is their network. Yet, many give it a half-baked attempt. Why do you think that is the case when effective, diligent networking produces positive results? If not immediately, then at some point, for sure.
Make your Network In Action!