Networking is the proactive process of developing mutually beneficial professional relationships that increase each person’s circle of associates. Every time you develop a new professional relationship through the networking process, that individual’s network of associates becomes your network and vice-versa. Because of its simplicity and ease of application, networking is one of the most cost-effective forms of marketing for your business.
Effective networking will increase your customer base, communicate your brand and demonstrate your expertise to potential customers. It can also help you identify leads and improve your reputation. Most significantly, successful networking is a relatively simple process that involves five steps:
1. Continually network. Networking is an ongoing process. Since it is about the development of relationships, networking takes place every time you interact with another human being. Therefore, you should always be on the lookout for networking opportunities.
2. Know what you want to gain from the networking process. For example, when you attend networking events, are you clear about what you want to accomplish? Are you trying to get new customers? Perhaps you seek new associates or employees for your business. Whatever the situation, you will have more success if you are clear about what you want to achieve.
3. Set networking goals for yourself. You are more likely to achieve networking success if you set a few goals for yourself. Make sure these goals are specific, measurable and achievable. For example, you might set a goal to “attend at least two networking events each month for the next year.” Another goal might be “to get 3 new clients through social media networking over the next 6 months.”
4. Know what you have to offer to others in your network. Remember, networking is a mutually beneficial relationship that works best if you have something of value to offer such as connections, information or access to valuable resources.
5. Put yourself in a position to network. It is hard to network while you are sitting in your office (except for social media networking). You need to get out and meet people. Here are a few networking opportunities you might want to consider:
• Professional association meetings
• Trade shows and expositions
• Local, regional and national conferences
• Local Chamber of Commerce events
• Educational programs (e.g., school, training classes)
• Volunteer work
• Social organizations (e.g., churches, community organizations)
• Social events
• Organized networking programs (i.e., events that offer structured networking opportunities)
• Social media networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn