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Networking is one of the best business building strategies I have ever used. As a matter of fact, I built my business through networking, so I know that it works. But very often, people tell me that networking doesn’t work for them. I used to wonder why networking was so good to me, but so useless for some folks, until I realized that the people who say that networking doesn’t work for them simply didn’t understand the concept.
Networking is about connecting with others. Those connections might turn into sales, or they may yield a steady stream of referrals, alliances, advice, support, friendship, or extra special care when working on your projects. All of these are valuable, although few will ever happen at the first meeting, because networking is a process that takes time and effort, so if you’re going to network, you have to do it right.
Here are five things you need to know about networking to make it a great strategy for your business:
1. Networking is more than face-time; it’s about really getting to know others. And most people make one of two mistakes when they’re networking — doing too much, or too little.
Doing too much networking means attending meeting after meeting, but failing to really connect with other people in a meaningful way. Just showing up at networking meetings isn’t enough; you need to spend some time getting to know other people, learning about their businesses, and understanding how (and who) to refer to those folks, just as you are hoping they will do for you.
Doing too little networking means joining groups but not attending meetings, or attending meetings but not interacting with others in the group. Just being on a membership roster isn’t networking, and if you really want to network, you have to be prepared to step out of your shell and actually talk with other people.
2. Where you network matters. When you network, you are looking to connect with more than just your prospects — you are looking for referral partners, potential alliance partners, and perhaps even colleagues with whom you can partner on large projects, or send prospects who are not a good fit with you. That means that at least one of your networking meetings should be with colleagues, another with prospects, and third with non-competing businesses who serve the same client you do.
3. Not every person you meet is a prospect, but nearly every person you meet can be a valuable part of your network. Just because someone isn’t a prospect right now doesn’t mean she won’t be in the future. And once you have her trust, she’ll be able to refer others in her circle of influence to you.
4. It is your responsibility to mingle and connect. Too many people go to networking events hoping to make connections, but self-consciousness or shyness keeps them cowering on the sidelines, so the meeting is a waste of time, effort, and money. Everyone at the meeting is there for the same reason — to connect — so there is nothing to feel self-conscious about. Approach someone who is standing alone, introduce yourself, and ask him what he does if you want to get a conversation going. Do this three times at every meeting you go to, and soon you will know everyone there, and will be comfortable (not to mention popular!)
5. People get bored or turned off really easily, so you need to be prepared to speak clearly, concisely, and positively about what you do. If the first words out of your mouth when someone asks you what you do are along the lines of “well, it’s complicated,” or “it’s hard to explain,” then you need to figure out what you can say that will be memorable, interesting, and explain what you do and for whom in just a few words.

About the author Veronika (Ronnie) Noize, the Marketing Coach, is a successful Vancouver, WA-based entrepreneur, author, speaker, and coach who helps small businesses attract more clients and double their business in just 30 minutes a day. Ronnie’s web site is a comprehensive small business marketing resource with free articles and valuable tools for small office/home office business professionals. Visit her web site at http://www.veronikanoize.com/, or call her at 360-882-1298.
Five Things You Need to Know About Networking © 2005 Veronika Noize. All rights reserved.
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