Whether you believe in having a business network or not, at some stage you will probably need advice from other people, to help grow your business. In order to obtain that advice, you can pay for it e.g. outsourcing, use an existing network of friends or build a network of business contacts.
Either way, it means having access to a group of people whose opinion you trust. For the purpose of this post, we’ll discuss ways to start, build and develop a network of contacts.
Remember though, starting any sort of successful business network takes time and effort.
Start a business network by being consistent and available to others.
Yes, it is easier to start a business network online nowadays by using social media channels. The thing is that by just setting up an account (channel) doesn’t guarantee that anybody will notice you or if they do – want to have a relationship with you.
In O’C&K, we use two main channels for online networking, LinkedIn, and Twitter. If you are embarking on social media for networking, here and here are two really good articles on using both for business.
No matter what methodology you decide to undertake, online or offline, consistency across all touch points is the key to building relationships that matter. All engagements must reinforce who you are and what you do in a way that prospects will remember you (within reason, of course).
Purposely engaging with the same people, online and offline, in a consistent manner will help build familiarity. In essence, you are proactively forging a relationship with like-minded people in your industry (influencers). You want them to make referrals when appropriate.
A common parlance of marketing, about scratching each other’s back, reflects the thought that people like engaging with those that they know, like and trust. It follows, therefore, that to build a successful network you have to have a reputation for being genuinely available to others.
There are buzzwords for this such as ‘karma’ or ‘paying forward’. Quite simply, it’s about being there for people when they need help, in an informal way. If your advice can assist them over a hurdle, the relationship seed has been sown and when nurtured properly will lead to a formal business relationship.
Build your business network before you need it.
We mentioned above that time and effort are required to build a successful business network. This means, from the word go, you are watching out for potential people to add to your network. This can spill over into your personal life but to what extent that happens, is up to yourself.
The caveat is, however, that your network shouldn’t comprise any old group of contacts. Rather, it should be an authentic list of the ‘right’ people you may need at some stage, to help your business.
This might entail joining or attending local networking groups, e.g. dubnetbiz, business associations e.g. SFA, or any body of people that are relevant to what you do. As they say – to be successful you need to surround yourself with successful people.
Now, at these events you are going to come across people dealing out their business cards, willy-nilly. What do you do when you see no obvious benefit in them? We say – ‘take them’ and ask if you can keep in touch. Send a follow-up email the next day and stay in touch through email or at least on a social media channel.
Why? Well, just because you might not perceive them as being an important connection initially, their network might well contain a prospect for you. At some stage in the future, they might tap into their connections on your behalf. After all, it is about building a business network.
Develop the network by staying in touch and cultivating the relationship.
Just like friendships, business relationships need time to grow. Trust can arise from a forged bond through networking. However, it does need to exist before others will recommend your business to their contacts.
Some people hate the thought of meeting new people at an event and going through the motion of being ‘chatty’. They just want to get on with the business side of things.
Our tip is to be a good listener because people love to talk about themselves. Watch for word signals such as ‘I can’t find’ – ‘can’t get my head around’ – ‘don’t know how to’ or ‘don’t know of anyone who’ etc. You might be able to help them there and then or promise to get in touch with them shortly thereafter.
Look at a networking event as a room full of professional friends that you haven’t met yet.
Whilst these events may be a stepping stone, it is entirely up to you to demonstrate your competence and trustworthiness thereafter. By patiently cultivating a relationship, you will build a reputation for credibility and commitment.
Six tips for staying in touch with your business network.
- Follow up the next day – without reinforcement, the impact of your 1st meeting diminishes every day.
- Record details – write notes on the back of a business card or in an app/spreadsheet when you get the chance.
- Use your online calendar to remind you to catch-up – when you do keep the message short.
- Use social media – link on LinkedIn, like their Facebook page, follow on Twitter or comment on their blog post.
- Host a networking event – invite them along.
- Create an online alert – be notified if their business is mentioned online.
Tips and Timesavers.
Networking is a proven way of building a community of professional contacts that you may use to help you grow your business if required. To develop your network do things like:
- Focus on adding value to your existing network by finding prospects for them.
- Target a small number of industry contacts that you want to connect with and go to an event where they will attend.
- Build a community of contacts out of your bigger network – deliver most value to them.
- Become the connector for your network.
However, networking, when done wrong, can be a complete waste of time and money. Avoid these 8 types of people when building your business network:
- They accept referrals but don’t offer you anything in return
- They are not interested in learning about your business, not even your target audience
- They take ages to respond to your phone call/email
- They break appointments at the last minute
- They say they can’t help you with prospect introductions
- They ignore you at events and are handing out business cards to ‘new’ contacts
- They don’t look at your card when presented to them at an event
- They keep looking around the room when you are explaining what you do.
At this stage we can agree that forming meaningful relationships, with the right people, can have a positive impact on your business. The ‘trick’, just like in life, is to be more interested in other people than trying to make them think that you are interesting.
When you consistently offer assistance to people, in a way that matters to them, gradually they will believe in you, lower their guard and share with you where they need help.
“We hope you have enjoyed our marketing tips and timesavers blog” – Aidan & Jim.
Would you like us to notify you, by email, when we publish new content? If so, just let us know by clicking here. Of course, we can always meet face-to-face, just leave your details here and we might grab a coffee, cheers. Jim – O’C&K