“Networking” can have negative ‘salesy’ connotations or sound daunting, particularly if you’re an introvert or juggling an already brimming schedule. It is however instrumental to surround yourself with like-minded people when building a business, not only for your mental health, but likelihood of success.
Treasury researchers looked at the income data of one million people born in the late 70s to the early 80s and found a person's friends had a significant influence on their likely economic outcomes.
Times have been tough over the last few years with COVID having a negative impact on many businesses, as well as further isolating founders, so having a group of people around you that truly ‘get it’ is invaluable.
Sitting at the top of a business can be isolating for many reasons. My business (Click Start Digital) is run online and all of my staff including myself work from home full-time. This has so many benefits but also some drawbacks, it can get lonely and sometimes you just need someone to bounce ideas off. I make sure that every day I get out, if that’s going to the gym with friends, meeting someone for coffee or lunch, or catching up for a paddle board mid-week with one of my Entrepreneurs’ Organisation family. Socialising is just as important for your business as balancing the books.
Networking doesn’t mean always having an agenda – in fact, if you’re immediately trying to push an agenda or promote your business without first getting to know someone, you’re missing the point. Business connections, referrals and support come with trust, and trust comes from building positive relationships with people.
If you’re looking to brush up on your networking skills, especially after years of increased social isolation from the pandemic, here are my seven best steps for effective networking:
1. Meet people through your existing network
If you have some great business connections already, leverage them. Find out who their business circles are and don’t be afraid to ask for an introduction where a connection might be helpful.
2. Be open to all opportunities and connections
Sometimes the smallest interactions can lead to huge opportunities. Keeping an open mind and communicating your business goals authentically with people as you move through life, can open unexpected doors sometimes.
3. Leverage social media to expand your networks
It goes without saying that platforms like LinkedIn can facilitate connections globally. Other platforms can be perfect for connecting as well, depending on your business.
4. Offer before asking
For all of the above tips, treat people as you want to be treated. Going straight into an interaction looking to achieve a positive outcome for yourself alone will never get the results you want. Even if you get what you’ve asked for, you haven’t built a foundation for a relationship. Ask what you can do for others, not what they can do for you. Going back to trust and the glue to any relationship, to build a positive connection, practice active listening and look for how you can support and connect others.
5. Join dedicated groups like Entrepreneurs’ Organisation
Peer-to-peer networks like Entrepreneurs’ Organisation that aren’t based on ‘hard-sell’ tactics are a great way to meet other business owners, and being a global organisation means you can connect with people across the world. With members needing to have turnover of at least USD$1 million, the quality of connections and experience is guaranteed. If your business isn’t there yet, EO has an accelerator program, or you could find other business communities locally. Personally, I’ve used the global network of EO’ers several times when I’ve been stuck with needing help recruiting, financial & investment advice and scaling my business. The global connections are fantastic and through travelling the world with other members of EO, I have had some of the best experiences of my life.
6. Be authentic
Vulnerability and authenticity have been spoken about a lot in recent years, with figures like Brene Brown working to dispel the myth that vulnerability is a weakness. This doesn’t mean going into networking situations and immediately laying all your business struggles on the table, but it does mean taking risks and being open to a degree of emotional exposure. People can sense when you’re pedalling nonsense wrapped-up in bravado. Trust builds connections. Honesty builds trust.
7. Follow up after meeting someone
Consistency is another magic element of trust building. Reflect on how your interactions went and where you could improve. Reflect on what you learned about someone and who might be beneficial for them to meet. Stay in touch, not just once after meeting them, but regularly if a strong connection was made. Be active in making plans to catch up.
At the end of the day, networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships and authentic connections. When actively looking to expand your network, identify the quality of relationships that will propel you both personally and professionally. Consider those in your networks who match what you’re seeking and look for opportunities and introductions through them.
To create structure and regular connections, look to business groups like Entrepreneurs’ Organisation and community groups that will pair you with the right people - those who have achieved what you’re looking to achieve. Look for ways you can help and support others and let others know what you’re looking for (tactfully!).
Be yourself. You won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and you shouldn’t have to be. Those who share your views and passions will find you and those who don’t will be weeded out by your boldly authentic self! Approach people as you’d wish to be approached and make an effort to continue the connections beyond an initial meet and greet.
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