23 Networking Tips for Building Effective Relationships
Much of the success of any endeavor – be it personal or professional – is attributed to relationships. The most productive relationships are almost always the positive ones. If one wants to be popular, he has to have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. If an organization or team wants to achieve its goals, it has to foster a strong and solid bond among its members.
If an entrepreneur wants to succeed in business, there is a need to cultivate relationships with suppliers, contractors, customers, distributors, partners, and other third parties directly and indirectly involved with the business and its operations.
For many, though, that is easier said than done. Building relationships and subsequently nurturing them on a constant basis… these are challenges that everyone must overcome if they want to attain their goals. Thus, various techniques and tactics are used in order to establish relationships and nurture them. In business, there is a term for this cultivation of productive relationships. It is called networking.
In this guide, we explore 1) what is networking, 2) why it is important for your career, and 3) the most important networking tips to follow if you are interested in building fruitful relationships.
WHAT IS NETWORKING?
The word “networking” has been used in business so frequently that it is now described as a “socioeconomic activity” involving the meeting of entrepreneurs, professionals and businesspeople in order to form and maintain business relationships. Through these relationships, they are able to recognize or create business opportunities, and act on them.
The most successful businesses are those who have a good standing in the industry, and this denotes a good relationship with those that they do business with. That is not really a stretch, when you consider that people mostly do business – and keep doing business – only with those that they like and actually trust.
Business and social functions are the quintessential venues for networking to take place. Take, for example, an occasion where a large automotive manufacturer is announcing its plans to launch a new car model in the coming year. It won’t come as a surprise to see businesspeople, even from industries other than automobile manufacturing, to be present. Their main reason may be to celebrate with the new plans of the company, but they have another reason for being present in the occasion, and that is to network.
Networking is not merely the act of two people exchanging business cards, shaking hands and making a toast while drinking together. It is a far more complex activity, which is why many approach it with caution and a lot of care.
IMPORTANCE OF NETWORKING
Adam Small, CEO of the Strategic Business Network, underlined the importance of networking by describing it as the “single most powerful tactic to accelerate and sustain success for any individual or organization”. Author John Maxwell must have been in complete agreement, quoting “your network is your net worth”.
But why, exactly, should you network? Why should you choose networking as one of your relationship-building and –sustaining tools?
Networking provides great opportunities to establish business contacts and referral networks.
This is probably the most widely known benefit of networking: businesses network in order to reach more people, generate more referrals and, in the process, increase the amount of business that the company is getting.
The good thing about having a business network is that you can be assured that you will be in the company of like-minded individuals. You, and the others who are also networking and belong in the same network, are there for the same purpose, which means that you are likely to help each other out. Everyone will be working for their mutual benefits.
Networking allows you to learn the dynamics within the industry, particularly of the industry that you or your business belongs to.
If you are only starting a business, or you are only on your first few days at a new job, you are pretty much a fish out of water. You can only rely on what you were able to research about the industry or about the company, prior to stepping into the fray.
Networking allows you to have a learning experience that will make you more prepared and more capable to move forward, either as a business or as a professional.
Networking opens doors to a lot of business opportunities.
Did you know that many successful businesses today started because of an opportunity that was made possible by networking? A business looking for ways to invest its idle resources is likely to tap into its network to look for other businesses that are thinking along the same lines. They will come together, and invest in a joint venture or another partnership.
Let’s make things simpler. An event organizer is putting together a convention where resource speakers on anything IT-related will be on. The problem is that he has been organizing corporate speaking events before, and does not know any IT experts or resource persons. To address that, he taps his network of speakers and experts on corporate matters, asking for help. They, in turn, will look into their respective networks of speakers, where the IT experts are. This is networking at work.
Networking is a way for one to stay connected to the community or industry.
In business networking, it is not rare to hear the word “connections” being used. You may have often heard this sentence used: “It’s not WHAT you know; it is WHO you know”. In an average world without networking, there is no way that an owner of a small business will be able to get even a 10-minute audience with, say, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to pick his mind and ask for business advice. However, thanks to networking, this gap is bridged, and even new business owners will have the chance to be able to talk to highly influential and brilliant minds.
Businesses practice networking to stay “plugged” into a community (the network) and be kept in the loop. A simple analogy will be a playground where five- and six-year-old kids frequent every weekend for a playdate. Those who form a network with the other kids are in the loop, while that odd one or two who prefer to remain on the sidelines, refusing to play with the other kids, are likely the last to know when the next play date will be.
Networking is a means to help in the development and flourishing of knowledge resources.
Many skills and knowledge are acquired through classes, course works, and actual work experience. But they may also flourish and be developed further through networking. Take the example of the new business owner earlier. There is no doubt that he will gain more knowledge by spending time and talking with the Facebook founder.
Learning is actually more effective and interactive when done through networks, especially since, as mentioned earlier, you will be with like-minded individuals. Engineers will learn from other engineers, just as doctors may gain additional knowledge from other medical professionals.
Networking aids in finding new career opportunities and opportunities for professional development.
Jobseekers look for open positions in a variety of places: the Yellow Pages, online job boards, social media platforms, and newspapers. But many also look to their networks for career opportunities. They may know someone who works for a company that is looking for a person with his skills and qualifications.
Those who are currently employed will also benefit from maintaining a network. Actually, most of them look outside the company for opportunities for professional development, and that can be accelerated by coursing their search through their networks.
Read this really helpful slides on business networking.
NETWORKING TIPS YOU SHOULD FOLLOW
1. Set networking goals.
You have to have a clear direction, with a specific goal in mind, for your networking. Do you know why you are networking in the first place? Is it to introduce your new business? Is it to obtain support and gain favor from the industry? Is it to acquire knowledge in order to get your business of the ground and oversee its operations very well?
There are a multitude of reasons why businesses pay special attention to networking. Know what they are so that it will be easier for you to come up with a plan on how you will carry out your networking efforts.
2. Know where to do networking.
Businesspeople must be feeling really lucky these days because, compared to, say, twenty, thirty, fifty years ago, there are more places, venues and platforms where they can network. It used to be limited only in industry conferences and speaking engagements. However, as networking has evolved, so, too, did the networking hot spots, so to speak.
Aside from conferences, meetings, trade fairs and showcases, networking also works very well over the internet, thanks in large part to social media platforms offering a new, modern, faster and easier way to connect. Businesses now make it a point to “build a strong online presence”. That is, in actual fact, a networking move. The most commonly used (and effective) social media platforms used primarily for business networking are Twitter and LinkedIn.
3. Understand your target.
By “target”, we mean the potential contacts that you want to be in your network. Networking is about meeting the right people, not all the people. Effective networking is more about quality than quantity.
Two strategies may be at play here:
- Abundance method. In this approach, the person tries to connect with as many people as they can. In a room full of people, he is that person who flits from one end of the room to another, talking to pretty much everyone. His objective is to make as many contacts as he can, possibly everyone he comes in contact with. This method will work only if you are an expert at networking, and you have the ability to leave a memorable impression on everyone that you have met and talked to.
- Quality relationships method. This approach is more selective. The networker will choose only several individuals, those they deem to be the best prospects, and approach them. They are more concerned with making a lasting impression on a handful of contacts, instead of rubbing elbows with a hundred. The advantage of this method is that the networking will be more concentrated or focused. It has higher probabilities of helping create quality relationships.
4. Take the first step by reaching out.
You should not wait for your potential contact to approach you. Make the first move instead. You can start by being friendly and helpful, offering them any assistance they may need. Or you can simply start by expressing your curiosity about them.
In personal circles, they call this “making small talk” and “breaking the ice”. It applies to this situation, too.
5. Manage your time to make way for networking.
Businesspeople often chime out that they are too busy running their businesses to go out and mingle. They see this as a waste of time; why should they hang around talking to other people, some of them even competitors or rivals, when he could simply stay at the office and work for hours on end managing business operations?
The excuse of not having time to network is just that: an excuse. If you are serious about wanting to build and nurture relationships, then you have to recognize that networking is a must-do. Therefore, you have to leverage your schedule, so that you are able to set aside more than sufficient time for networking activities.
Do not look at this as a waste of time. Instead, treat this as an expense that will soon inure to the benefit of the company, and bring in opportunities and gains.
6. Provide as much value as you can.
A relationship is a two-way street, and a healthy and productive relationship is one where both parties benefit and receive value. However, in order to receive value, you also have to provide or give value.
Before tapping into a network or creating one, and entering a relationship, the business also has to be fully aware of what it has to offer or bring to the table. This is so it can strengthen its position as a contributor to the network, and make it attractive to others.
There is a need to add value to the relationship continuously. Your value as a part of the network, and your networking appeal, will diminish or disappear the moment you stop providing or offering value.
Provide professional leads. If you heard of a business opportunity, let the people in your network who may be interested in that opportunity know about it. If you heard about a job opening in a company, let the people who you know are qualified know about it. If there is a speaking or writing opportunity, think of anyone in your network who may be interested in those gigs.
7. Develop the habit of introducing people and make an effort to connect others.
Networking is not just about you connecting with business contacts. It also involves you acting as a bridge or a conduit from time to time, connecting other parties together. By connecting others, you are actually widening your own network.
Introducing people can actually be difficult, which is why not everyone is comfortable doing it. However, it is a skill that must be developed and performed every chance you get. Practice makes perfect, and this is one of those times.
8. Remember that networking is not just about you.
Networking is done primarily so we can benefit from it. We tend to focus on what others can do for us, more than what we can do for them. As a result, we have a tendency to talk more about what we need, what we want, and what we expect. Asking about the other parties’ wants, needs, expectations and opinions suddenly seem like an afterthought.
- Listen. Just think that the other people in your network are in it for the same reason as you. You want them to listen to your ideas and inputs. Therefore, you should also be willing to be on the receiving end of their ideas and inputs. Listen to what they have to say, just as they listen to you.
- Ask for their thoughts and opinions. Maybe they need some prodding or a little push for them to open up and share their ideas, thoughts and opinions. Your curiosity will be a point in your favor, because it means you are genuine and authentic in wanting to connect to – and keep connected – with them.
9. Be open-minded.
Do not expect your contacts to have the same mindset, outlook or sets of values as you. This is simply impossible. In fact, you have to anticipate that, at some point, there will be differences in opinions.
You have to practice keeping an open mind and have no prejudices. Take into consideration the fact that you cannot expect everyone to be the same. This is an example of “different strokes for different folks”. If you are close-minded and unwilling to accept and get over your differences, you will have trouble moving the relationship forward, or nurturing it to make it productive and successful.
10. Personalize encounters as much as you can.
Relationships are between human beings, not automatons. Networking is all about interaction and communication, so it is important that the approach is as personalized as possible.
- Meet with them in person. It could be for a cup of coffee or a full meal. Whatever it is, you have to be there in person. You will know when a business takes networking seriously when they allocate funds for travel, sending their representatives off to other cities and even countries to represent the company and network.
- Sending emails is another way for businesspeople to connect with their contacts. When this is your mode of communication, make sure the message is personalized and directed to the recipient. Refer to them by their name, and check that the message specifically targets them. Even when you send them links, personalize them by explaining why you are sending the links to them specifically.
11. Re-introduce, remind, check in, and follow up.
One of the main reasons why some fail to build a network and develop a relationship with other businesses is the lack of follow-through. It is foolish to think that, once you have met, shared a drink or two, threw around ideas together, and generally hit it off, everything’s already set in stone.
Remember that networking is also like a game, and there are a lot of players. If you stop playing even before the game has even started, then there is no way you will win, and the other players will move on ahead, leaving you eating their dust.
- Reintroduce. It is a fact that not everyone’s memory is sharp, and they may easily forget about you a few days after you connected. That’s fine. You should actually expect it, considering how they may be dealing with so many contacts at one time. What you can do is to make sure to re-introduce yourself. You have to give a subtle reminder on who you are, how you connected and where and when you connected. This is especially true if it is a contact you haven’t kept in touch with for a while. Before starting off giving them an update of what you have been to, and what you are currently up to, you might want to reintroduce yourself first. Otherwise, they would be wondering who you are, readily giving information to a stranger.
- Remind and reinforce. Connect with key relationships periodically. You need to remind them that you are still around, and that you want to forge a business relationship with them. There is no standard for how often or how long the intervals will be between connections. For some businesses, it is enough to connect and reconnect on a quarterly basis, while some may deem that they should keep in more constant contact.
- Check in. Even if you do not have a particular reason for contacting one of your connections, you should still check in from time to time. You can do this by sending a short note. Say hello. Ask them how they are doing. Inquire how they are doing, or how a recent project has progressed. You may also let them know what you’ve been up to. It may be simple, short and sweet, but it will do the trick.
12. Give them some space.
You should definitely give them some breathing room. Contacting them too much, too often, is not really a good idea. Why?
- You do not want to seem like a stalker and disturb them, even when they are doing something personal and not related to business. Worse, they may even find your excessive familiarity offensive.
- You do not want to come across like you are not doing anything other than networking. You are supposed to run a business or hold a job. If you are constantly contacting them, or rubbing elbows and doing networking every time they see you, they would think that you are unprofessional.
- This is inefficient, on your part. You may be focusing too much attention on one contact, to the point of stalking them, when there are other contacts that you are ignoring, but are equally beneficial or helpful.
Do not call them too often, and when you do call them, pick the hours. Calling them in the middle of the night or in the early hours of the morning is very unbusinesslike, not to mention rude and impolite. Do not bombard them with messages, emails or links, either, because if you overdo it, they just might leave your messages unopened and unread.
13. Remain visible.
If your networking action plan involves you popping up only when there are events for networking, and then staying low and unseen the rest of the time, then that is not considered networking at all. Make sure that your presence is known.
That is why you have to make subtle reminders every now and then. Do not disappear then appear at intermittent periods. You know what they say: “out of sight, out of mind”. If your contacts do not see you or hear from you, they are more than likely to forget you.
14. Improve your products and services.
This is probably one of the most important tips, and it makes sense, too. There is no use if you have excellent people and communication skills, and you work the room like a pro when it comes to networking, if you do not have quality to back it up.
For example, you are in the business of formulating and developing medicines. You are also known for your superior networking skills. However, your company has been receiving a lot of criticism and facing a lot of problems due to defective drugs being sold in the market, with some of them even causing grave side effects.
Your strength in networking will easily be overshadowed by the poor quality of your products and services. You have to focus first on delivering value to customers so that you will have a stronger base for your networking activities.
15. Build and maintain a good business reputation.
A good business reputation goes hand in hand with maintaining good relationships. A business will have a difficult time connecting with other businesses and contacts if it has a bad reputation, because who would want to be associated with someone with a tarnished name and image?
In contrast, a company that is reputable and pretty much loved by the public will have higher chances of making lasting connections and building and nurturing strong networks and relationships.
16. Network in all directions.
You have to diversify. If you are a senior manager, do not limit your networking to other senior managers or people holding the same position. If you are running a living care facility, do not limit your networking only to hospices and other similar facilities. Expand your reach by focusing your efforts to the healthcare industry as a whole.
Diversification will be to your advantage. Networking is supposed to widen or broaden your reach, after all, and keeping it within tight confines defeats its very essence.
17. Ask for help in networking.
You may find yourself at a loss on what to do when networking, or even how to get started. That’s a normal reaction, especially for those who are venturing for the first time out of their comfort zones. Businesspeople that don’t have prior experience interacting with different people and personalities are especially going to find it difficult.
There is nothing wrong in asking for help or assistance in networking. In fact, you may also use it to your advantage, because the person you ask for help may be the first contacts that you will have in your network.
Make sure you build a rapport with your newly meet business relationships.
18. Say thanks and congratulations.
Just because everyone is benefiting from the network does not mean that there is no longer a need to be grateful. Saying “thank you” is basic human courtesy, but it is also an effective tool for maintaining relationships. Fortunately, thanks can be conveyed in more than one or two ways. Aside from vocalizing it out loud, sending thank-you notes and gifts are just as effective.
Similarly, milestones should also be remembered as much as you can. Send a greeting card on the birthday of the CEO of a business, or a bouquet of flowers when his wife gave birth. This will manifest that you also view them as human beings, not just as business partners who will benefit you. It is also a way to demonstrate that you keep tabs on them, and not just when you need something.
If your business contact landed a lucrative business deal, congratulate them. If your professional contact got a promotion, let them know you are happy for them. You may also take that opportunity to catch up with them and even update them on what you’ve been up to lately.
19. Think long-term.
Do not build relationships thinking that it will only last as long as the next six months, at least until the current business plan you are working on is fully launched.
You have to aim to make long-lasting connections. The beauty of networking is that, when done right, it is an excellent tool to ensure that connections remain for a very long time.
20. Document networking efforts.
Keep detailed records of all the activities that you performed in line with your networking plans. Not only will this help you monitor your progress, it is also a good way for you to track if there are contacts that you have not kept in touch with recently.
21. Manage yourself.
When you are networking, you automatically become the face of your company or your brand. You are effectively representing them, so that your brand or company will be immediately identifiable with you. Make a favorable or good first impression, but make it a point to make a good impression every single time.
Be presentable. It’s like when you are going in for a job interview or attending an important business meeting where you have to make a good impression.
Make eye contact, and maintain it. Let them feel that you are really communicating to them. Smile. Do not drive them away by looking gloomy or depressed. Speak clearly, so you can get the message across more clearly.
22. Practice the Golden Rule.
The Golden Rule says to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. In the context of networking – and in business relationships, in general – you should relate to others as you would like others to relate to you.
23. Make networking a habit.
Make networking a part of your lifestyle. Do not do it only when you are going to start a new business, or you are looking for a promotion or a career change. Relationships take time to begin, develop, and flourish. It is not something that is created overnight.
In the same vein, networking does not gain immediate results. Lasting connections, especially those that last a lifetime, take a lot of effort and work, and they certainly also take a lot of time. Therefore, it is a good idea to practice networking in your daily lives, be it personally or professionally.