Contrary to popular belief, networking does not mean selling, it’s about building relationships. It’s through these relationships that business owners can grow their business and take it to new heights. And, you can too!
I love to explain this with the metaphor of an ATM machine. You put in your card and it gives you cash. Is it just that? No! You first have a relationship with your bank and put some money in your bank account. It is only after that, that, you have the ability to take out what you want. That’s how business relationships work. You give, build the relationships, and receiving becomes possible.
You meet people, nurture give and take relationship and reap the benefits over time. Building strong networks has a distinct advantage. Be its alumni network, work networks or business networks (BNI being my favorite). You get to connect with people across these networks for mutual gain.
When stuck – these networks will aid you with connections, solutions, clients and more. As their word-of-mouth advertising goes a long way in bringing new clients and strengthening your customer base. However, many of us don’t understand HOW we can go about building these networks and growing our influence.
Further, here’s how to grow your business with a network of people who inspire you and help you grow.
Get out of your comfort zone
I certainly know networking is intimidating, especially for introverts. And it’s hard to take the initiative and strike a conversation. What should I talk about? What if the other person is not interested in conversation with a stranger? The only way to get over this is to get over your discomfort and approach them for a quick chat.
Break your comfort zone. Get uncomfortable. Initiate conversations.
For example, when I started my business in Dubai, I hardly knew anyone in business circles. When I attended networking events, everyone seemed to know everyone else, and it made me very uncomfortable. Those of you who know me, know that I love talking – but I was intimidated initially. Hence I set a goal for myself – to attend one event every month. I would take along a client or a friend (and fellow coaches) and just go there.
Sharing my goal with my friends helped greatly. They invited me to events that they thought might be useful for me. It was through this strategy that I was first invited to a BNI meeting. As a result, 5 years later, it’s a lifeline for my business and a huge player especially in the success of my business.
Think about people who inspire you
If you are serious about networking up, think of people outside of your comfort zone who inspire you. Get specific about WHO you want to connect to, and seek them out. Prepare yourself, connect to them via social media prior to attending an event or meeting. I recommend LinkedIn for professional networking). If they know someone who knows and trusts you, a meeting can be organized. Be specific about how you would like to meet them.
Do your research
- Make sure you understand why you want to network UP.
- Research on the person, their interests, and passions.
- Seek a connect – check if someone you know and trust already knows this person.
- Ask for an introduction. Seek to give, first.
I find LinkedIn a great place to research the person I want to meet. I can see their interests and the system shows me points of commonality. Don’t Stalk the person you want to network up to!
It’s important to be consistent – out of sight – out of mind is the saying. It is definitely true for networking, whether online or offline You build trust when you show up regularly to networking events. And you should know, people help other people who they like, know and trust. Mark your presence, be consistent. Show up regularly. Follow up on your discussions and do what you said you would do.
At this point, thinking about your personal brand is important. WHEN you show up, HOW are you showing up? Be on time, dress appropriately for your profession, don’t complain, be upbeat.
Proactively offer help
Before taking their help, first, think of how you can help them. You can always help others. If you don’t know what to talk about, ask them questions… loads of questions?????. Be interested, be helpful.
Listen to how you can help them. You can introduce them to someone in your network. Share an article or information that might be helpful. Offer your time and provide some unique help. Above all, be open minded and proactive about how you can help.
Share information and insights that will help the person remember you. Recently, when I met the CEO of BNI, Graham Willheimer, we connected on a common topic – social impact. I shared some information he would find useful, but I also knew that was not a topic he was going to converse on with anyone he met in Dubai. (I hope he still remembers me lol). Find topics that help you stand out and confidently connect through points of common interest.
Keep in touch
Follow up on the meeting and stay in touch. Don’t hound them. If you promised to send an article do that. If you promised to introduce them to someone do that.
Networking helps your business in many ways. Most of all networking up can help you step up how and where you network. Always make sure you set some clear goals, increase your visibility and consistently connect with more people. Perseverance is the key.