If you want to get things done and keep everything under budget, it’s essential that you have access to the people, tools and materials that you need to get the job done. If you don’t focus on business networking, you’re going to be quickly outpaced by those who do.
That said, business networking is evolving. No longer is it about collecting business cards and keeping your rolodex up to date in case you need to reach a specific contact. Now it’s much more nuanced and offers many more opportunities to the smart networker.
If you’re not sure how to stay on top of the changes in the business networking world, here are a few of the things that are likely to work when you’re trying to stay on top of your game:
Not everyone you meet is going to be a good contact for your business, and not every event you attend is going to overlap with your business interests.
Sure, you can attend every trade show and other event that comes up… but a lot of that is going to just be wasted time. Instead, have periodic planning meetings to decide which events are the best potential networking targets for your business and focus your efforts on making a good showing there.
Depending on where you operate, you may be able to find “networking meetings” to attend.
These meetings are small events that are specifically held to allow business leaders to meet and establish new contacts within the local business community. Some meetings may have a focus on a specific industry, while others may be open to all businesses within a certain geographic region. If you aren’t able to find any local networking meetings, you may need to take the initiative and host your own: Invite business contacts you already have, and encourage them to invite their contacts as well.
This will greatly increase the number of potential contacts you have access to, and can result in some strong strategic partnerships.
Use Open-Ended Questions
When meeting new potential business contacts, have a set of open-ended questions ready to ask.
This approach gives the people you talk with a chance to talk about their business and its industry, helping you to judge how good of a fit it might be with your own business. It also has the added benefit of encouraging general conversation, lifting the overall mood of the encounter and making it much more likely that the two of you will find something in common.
Business Networking Groups
If you’re really serious about improving your business network, consider joining a business networking group. These groups may operate on the local, national or even international scale, giving you access to potential contacts that you’d never find anywhere else. There may be requirements for joining, though, so be sure to research potential groups before joining.
Conservative Business Card Distribution
One of the worst habits you can have in business networking is handing out a business card to everyone that you meet. Sure, you may get a few calls from your cards, but most of them are just going to end up on a shelf or in a trash can. Instead, focus on establishing a connection with the people you talk to first and then offer up a business card to those that you had the most success with.
You may not even have to offer… in many cases, people who are interested in pursuing a business connection will ask for a card before the conversation ends.
Learn to Network
Modern trends in business networking differ in a lot of ways from the traditional “mingle with everyone” approach that dominated personal and business networking in past decades.
It can take some getting used to, especially if you’ve been in business for a while. If you really want to grow your business, though, it’s worth taking the time to learn new business networking techniques and practice them on a regular basis. You never know when your new skills are going to net you the exact contact that your business needs to reach the next level.