We talk about networking a lot in business. But what is it? What purpose does it serve?
Networking means interacting and engaging with people. This may seem vague, which it is… but the benefits are endless. You can establish a new business, it can result in the growth of an existing business, can provide guidance and advice. It could help you to find staff or customers. You never know when your connections with people in business could result in a mutually beneficial situation.
This may seem opportunistic, to establish relationships with solely self-serving motives. This shouldn’t be the reality…. Being disingenuous, inauthentic and insincere will always translate in your disposition, and become counter-productive. You have to remember that the connections you make are with people, they are not merely opportunities or positions.
So what steps should you actually take to network effectively, how do you do it?
Firstly, you might want to consider the connections you’ve already made. By turning to friends and family. You may not have even registered that you could establish a business relationship with the people already close to you. This is a wonderful way to get started, because you already have a solid foundation of trust with that person and have each other’s best interest in mind.
Another fantastic way to network is through social events in person. This means attending events, conferences, seminars, lectures, lunches and forming relationships and exchanging contact information with people you meet. Look for events online, in business magazines or in newspapers. Attend every event you can. Even if you don’t think it will be beneficial, you might be surprised the value if could have… and the worse that can happen is that you establish a presence, and possibly be recognised in future.
Another way you can network is through online platforms. Particularly through LinkedIn, you can easily create new contacts from behind your screen. Join LinkedIn groups. You can join your High School and University groups and reach out to alumni. Join other associations, organisations, even volunteering groups that might be relevant to you. Don’t be too specific, there’s no harm in keeping your options open. However, make sure you’re prioritising potential connections and value some over others.
You might feel somewhat hesitant and uneasy at first… but over time networking should become far easier and routine, and you won’t have to actively seek out opportunities. Don’t forget to maintain the relationships you’ve already established, as well as pursuing new ones.
Shift your perspective, don’t approach networking with the notion or expectation that these relationships serve to benefit you. You’ll find that any relationships made will soon dissipate. You can build a relationship by helping someone else first.
Give favours and advice, as long as it isn’t detrimental to your own business… you’ll build a reputation for being generous and establish yourself, and my extension your business, as one with integrity. It’s likely that down the road … favours will be returned.