Business networking is the process of meeting other people and exchanging resources for mutual gain. Business networking forms the basis of business relationships. Small businesses rely heavily upon effective networking practices to win important investors, customers and partners. Your ability to network well is one of the factors that may not only differentiate your business but also ensure its survival. It is easier than ever to network, especially if you keep the following best practices in mind:
1. Present yourself well. Business networking is often about first impressions, and first impressions are often about presentation. At face-to-face events, dress well, polish how you speak, make eye contact and generally present yourself to impress others with your professionalism and charisma.
2. Don't bombard - interact. If you approach business networking solely as an opportunity to talk about yourself and your business, you'll bore people. Make networking more enjoyable by strategically limiting how much (and how repetitively) you talk and by increasing your chances to listen to and interact with the business networking group.
3. Exploit all media. Traditional networking takes place in physical locations. In the age of social networking websites like Facebook and LinkedIn, however, a lot of networking takes place online. Be aware that opportunities to network span several media; take advantage of all of them.
4. Business networking groups. People define themselves as members of groups such as one's profession, religion, race, gender, language and even favorite sports team. List the affiliations that matter to you, then consider them as networking possibilities. Subsequently, you can network through such events as church picnics, support groups, tailgate parties, environmental causes and gender-specific professional organizations.
5. Be selective and diligent. Thousands of official networking events take place every day, and the Internet offers access to millions more; unfortunately, the availability of all of these opportunities leads some entrepreneurs to take a shotgun approach to networking - which results in the failure to pay sufficient attention to any one opportunity. Identify and act on the highest-value opportunities rather than pitching to every possible audience. Narrowing down opportunities will allow you to focus more.
6. Consider family and friends. Look to your existing social networking groups to enhance business opportunities. Chances are that your family and friends already know plenty of people who could help you in some way. Connecting to these people can be easier than pitching yourself to complete strangers.
7. Always network. Without turning yourself into someone who is prepared to collar all passersby with your spiel, treat social events - a party, a ball game, a play - as an opportunity to meet new acquaintances who can later become part of a more formal network.
8. Find the center of influence. In the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith plays a stockbroker who befriends an extremely important banker with dozens of clients, friends and contacts. While the banker himself does not do business with the stockbroker, his contacts do. The lesson is that every group has a center of influence; your business networking efforts should focus on this individual.
9. Help others. While your ultimate goal may be to find investors or customers or to otherwise improve your own business chances and conditions, you are also in a position to help others. Offer whatever resources you can - advice, contacts, support, partnership or investment - in order to increase your value to the business network. This kind of enlightened altruism will eventually rebound to your advantage.
10. Take a Zen approach. To borrow a principle from Zen Buddhism, the best way to network is to be unconscious of the fact that you are networking. Don't let your mind dwell on the purpose or mechanics of networking. When you spend time with your friends, do you constantly have the purpose of maintaining your friendship in mind? No - you lose yourself in the moment. That's the kind of approach you should bring to business networking.
Good networking requires you to balance a methodical approach with the ability not to take yourself too seriously. One way to achieve this balance is to keep your methodical self behind the scenes. Carefully plan the events you'll attend, define your purpose and immerse yourself in your own pitch - but once you start interacting, maintain a casual and friendly demeanor. You'll be pleasant to be around and pleasant to listen to, which will differentiate you from the crowd and increase your chances of success.