If you run a successful business, you probably spend plenty of time ensuring that your customers’ experiences are good ones, but that relationship — as vital as it is to your bottom line — is just one of many that are essential. From your suppliers and shippers to the local mom and pop business that keeps your HVAC working, operating a business requires doing business with a lot of different people and companies, and finding good, reliable people to keep your ship afloat still requires the art of networking. No longer just a weekly meeting of the Rotary Club, networking has caught up to the 21st century, and while much of the approach is the same, the arena where it takes place has expanded.
Whether you’re solidly online and are content to connect on social media, or you’re an old-school Luddite who wants to conduct your research face-to-face and toe-to-toe, being adept at networking — online and in real life — will make your business run more smoothly, and because much of the burden lies in making people want to do business with you. Here is a look at how to network in the 21st century:
Whether it’s a business meeting or a networking luncheon, most of us forget people as soon as they hand out their business card and turn away. To avoid being forgettable, here are a handful of tips to ensure you leave a good, lasting impression:
- Wear something distinctive.
- Ask thoughtful, engaged questions.
- Contribute to group conversation but don’t hog the limelight.
- Make good eye contact.
One of the most important features in networking is being present. When you meet someone, give him your full attention. Listen and respond. Maintain eye contact, and keep your thoughts on the conversation at hand.
Most people wander through their lives at half-attention or less. People enjoy the experience of being seen, heard and known in the here-and-now, and your practice of staying in the present moment will make them more likely to want to do business with you.
Social Media — Business Class.
Social media is an ideal forum for networking with other businesses, but it must be handled well. If you spend too much time touting your accomplishments from your personal Facebook page, you’re going to get unfriended, or worse, you’ll just silently build a negative brand reputation.
If you want to use social media to promote your business or network with people, use the right sites. Connect with old coworkers, current associates and important business contacts on LinkedIn, find and compare businesses at www.GoGapless.com, talk about industry news on Twitter or share product ideas on Pinterest. Almost all social media sites can all be utilized really well for business networking purposes.
Blogging to establish yourself as an authority and thought leader within your field is a great way to a positive reputation for your business and also provide a platform where other like-minded individuals can find you. As you provide meaningful and valuable content to your customer base and others within your field and industry, the relationships you need will be able to develop more naturally.
Lunch meetings are an old standby of networking, and as long as people need to eat, that trend will continue. When you sit down to a meal with the intention of improving or expanding your network, make sure you retain a genuine interest in the other person as a person and not as a means to some end.
Networking is really just about building relationships with people who can be of benefit to one another, but a lunch or dinner meeting takes it to the next level. Breaking bread together is traditionally reserved for family and friendship; because of this, mealtime networking should never be entered into lightly. Reserve it for people with whom you genuinely want to work.
The Art of the Business Card.
Even in the 21st century, the business card still has a role to play. That being said, they are not all created equal. Continue to carry them and pass them out, but make sure your card fits the following criteria:
- Emphasize knowledge and information over creativity
- Absolutely no typos
- Crisp, clean and up-to-date
- Include ways to contact you
The Internet really does give us a wealth of networking and business opportunities, but each of us still lives and works in real time and real space. Whenever possible, try to do business close to home; toward that end, network locally, too — even if you already network online.
Being able to see the people with whom you do business on a regular basis increases your levels of responsibility and accountability to one another, and because you’re more likely to know what’s going on in each other’s lives, you will build a more personal relationship. It will also keep more of your money in your town, where your schools, roads and community need it.
Networking. It’s still a part of business as usual. Some of the networking process has shifted, but the overall arc and aim are the same. Whether you do it online or at your local barbershop, networking is about people finding one another so that both parties benefit.