Tips for Achieving Networking Success

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Networking. Maybe one of the most overused and misunderstood words in the business lexicon. Certainly it's one of the most common - and possibly among the most effective - means of marketing yourself. Although it can be personally labor intensive, networking is generally cost effective. You don't need any special equipment and, with a little effort, networking skills are easily mastered.

Work that room. It's not about how many business cards you give or get. Nor is it about instant gratification. It's about beginning and strengthening relationships. It's about earning trust and goodwill.

Choose your weapon. What's your style? Do you prefer a social setting for your networking or does a more structured approach work better for you? Both types can be very effective and fruitful if you plan ahead and network consistently.

Get out of your comfort zone. Sometimes it's not easy to meet new people, especially when they're part of a large crowd of people. Overwhelmed, you can wind up back in your comfort zone, talking with the same people time in and time out. Break your pattern; stretch your envelope. Set an easily achievable goal - perhaps to meet just one or two new people.

Hey! You got the time? Determine how much time you can devote to marketing yourself through networking and then commit to it. As with any means of marketing, regularity and repetition rule.

Make your list. Research the organization sponsoring a networking event. Find out who will be in attendance. What few among them would you like to meet or see again? Measure your networking success by the quality of the time you spend with those people; not on the quantity of people you glad hand.

Tell everyone what you do. Without being pushy, without monopolizing their time and only when the time is appropriate, let everyone you come in contact with on a regular basis - your neighbors, the merchants you frequent, members of your social, fraternal, service or civic club, your banker, members of your church - know what you do. But don't ask for anything from them - referrals, etc. - until you have done something for them.

It's who you know, not what you know. That's okay as far as it goes. It will help you get your foot in the door. But to get the sale, create customer loyalty and earn referrals from your customers, you'll need to know your stuff and deliver results. Customers appreciate referrals based on competence and trust rather than solely on name recognition, social acquaintance or academic association.

Join pertinent business, civic, service or industry organizations. Many of these organizations offer a variety of networking opportunities. They range from seminars, conferences and workshops to business mixers to "Rolodex sharing." Some even offer more focused peer and affinity groups.

Get rid of those butterflies. Remember that, although you hope to eventually gain something from networking, it's in giving that you will succeed. Take the focus off of you, your expectations and your agenda. Instead, focus on the person you'd like to meet or with whom you're talking. Learn about their business and look for ways you can help them. Your nerves will settle and this once frightening encounter will become much more comfortable and manageable. With some practice you may even begin to like the process.

Volunteer. Get involved on a committee, in a service organization, at your church, on a board in your city or town. Donate your time to a charitable cause. Read to children in your library's or school's literacy program. Mentor a child or share your expertise with budding entrepreneurs. In each of these activities you'll meet like-minded people and you'll all work toward the same goals. Demonstrate your talents and value by working to achieve those goals. You'll achieve peer status with those you work with and referrals will flow naturally from the relationships you build.

Referral swapping, anyone? Some well established organizations exist for the sole purpose of facilitating referrals among the business people who belong to them. Some of them are local and some are national in scope (for example BNI). They meet regularly and their members live by the rule that you must give in order to get. Be a giver. You won't be sorry.

Networking should be a win-win situation. Expand your circle of contacts by helping your customers solve their problems and build their businesses. You'll earn the right to ask them to help you build yours. And they'll be happy to oblige by making referrals, offering expert advice and introducing you into their circle of contacts. That's networking!