Building a Power Network
All of the business bloggers and gurus say the same thing. If you want to grow your business, network, network, network. But what does that mean?
What is Networking?
Networking is more than the sum of your contacts – it’s the depths of your relationships. To me, that is what is important in the big scheme of networking, the relationships you build. Through the last three years of networking, I have built strong relationships, both personally and professionally. As a result, I have formed strategic partnerships that I wouldn’t have thought of if I hadn’t put myself out there. Although networking may be the last thing you want to add to your overflowing plate, it can be critical to growing your business, and if you go about it the right way, personally rewarding as well. Here is what the last few years have taught me.
Networking is hard work, especially if you are an introvert or just don’t like spending time in groups of people talking about yourself. There are articles and blogs all over the internet which help introverts like me get out there and meet people. The Huffington Post has a great 7 Simple Steps to Networking for Introverts Article.
How to find a Networking Event
Another thing I noticed is that networking is everywhere. You can attend a breakfast, lunch, happy hour, and dinner event in this town every day of the week if you want to. To get the most out of networking, follow Nike’s advice and JUST DO IT.
But be smart about it and do it strategically. Attend different kinds of groups. First, find groups that speak to you filled with your target clients. These you will attend most regularly. Second, find groups of your colleagues and competitors (sometimes these will be the same groups as the first set). These groups will keep you informed and up to date in your field and, who knows, someday one of them might need your help and become a client. Finally, attend a couple of “stretch” groups every so often—groups for which your gut reaction is to say, “No way!” Sometimes, because you have less to lose, these are the most fun of all.
As you play the field like this, however, only return to the groups that speak to you. Sometimes you know after one meeting, sometimes it takes as many as three. Don’t stretch yourself and your networking budget too thin. Find two to three core groups to attend that provide the kinds of contacts you’re looking for. Once you find those groups, it is time turn those contacts into relationships.
Building a good network doesn’t happen overnight. It takes hard work, but the good news is it can be fun, too. Your network will be filled with creative, driven people. They will be fonts of knowledge, experience, and inspiration. Create your “tribe” and they will become your biggest cheerleaders.
Another piece of advice I offer is don’t be that one person who hits everyone up in the room with their business card. Networking is more than passing out business cards. It is about forming strong connections with professionals who can help you grow your business. I call these power partners – those with whom you can form a mutually beneficial relationship. Get to know your power partners, then figure out how you can help them. Why? Because that’s how you earn their trust. Once you earn their trust, they’ll return the favor and figure out how to help you.
Building your Network is going to take time
Trust isn’t a magic word and doesn’t magically happen – it takes time and consistency. My advice is to invest in people and groups that you enjoy spending time with. Also, be genuine and authentic. If you aren’t, the people you want to befriend will see right through you. Be professional and caring. Yes, it is possible to be both, especially when you choose to power partner with people you enjoy being with and can learn from.
Have three core groups that you joined? Great and guess what? Joining a network group isn’t enough. You have to be seen once you get there. The quickest way to be seen is to volunteer. Hand out programs, guide people to their seats, and greet new members. Be willing to put in a little more time, and always do as good a job, if not better, as you do for your paying customers. Think of it as an audition – this shows you in action in front potential clients and recommenders.
Follow-up is the key to Networking Events
I have bad news for you introverts. Networking isn’t over when the event is over. A key step in the process is follow-up. Be creative in the ways you keep in touch. Invite your colleagues to other networking meetings, schedule “coffee dates,” send emails just to say “Hello.” Ask them for advice or set up your own mastermind group. Believe it or not, the good old-fashioned phone call still works wonders. Bottom line, follow-up is essential in developing relationships and keeping them healthy. The goal is to build strong and meaningful (and mutually beneficial) relationships based on mutual respect.
But don’t forget the purpose of networking – to find work, not replace it. So remember to create a balance between networking and working. Some professionals see their networking as their social life – which is fine if it fits in with your business plan and your family life. Be honest and limit your groups if they become too much. You are no good to any of your new power partners if you can’t be there for them. You don’t want to be so busy attending functions you run out of time to actually do the work for your paying customers.
That is where an organization like the Women’s Enterprise Foundation can help you. Did you know it offers scholarships for networking organizations like NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners)? Learn more about our grant and scholarship opportunities here!