Business networking for entrepreneurs is an art and a science. The trend of E Networking has also opened up a new online world of Mega-Networking. From the proliferation of social networking sites like Facebook to the more structured, in-person networking groups like Business Networking International (BNI), there have never been more opportunities for building your professional network. However, many of the tried and true “rules of engagement” apply, because, in the end, it’s all about relationships.
With that in mind, there are three basic kinds of business networking:
1) Traditional networking – In-person meet and greets at professional events and meetings, etc. In addition to joining an association specific to your industry, check out your local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary International chapter.
2) “Structured” networking clubs – Professional groups like Business Networking International (BNI) require a significant time commitment but can be tremendously helpful in finding new business.
3) Online or E-Networking – Internet-based networking websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook take “six-degrees-of-separation” networking and make it digital.
Here are the things you need to know to maximize your networking efforts:
•Perfect your elevator pitch Prepare and rehearse your one-minute “introduction speech” in advance. This breaks the ice and also serves as a good conversation-starter.
Resources: Learn how to create an effective elevator pitch at Businessknowhow.com. Need inspiration? Read successful elevator pitches and tweak your own at YourElevatorPitch.com.
•Be a joiner Join professional trade groups. Volunteer. Get more involved in trade associations. Make a name for yourself; don’t hide behind the scenes.
Resources: You can join local chapters of Fast Company magazine’s Company of Friends group to stay connected, or more freelance-oriented groups like Guru.com, where you can find work and search for freelancers to work for you.
•Give action to get action Remember that networking works both ways. Be ready to reciprocate. Kevin Spacey’s Hollywood agent character said it best in the film “Swimming with Sharks:” You’ve got to give action to get action!”
Resources: Don’t dismiss the power of social networking websites like Friendster and Knowmentum. These can be a source of great connections.
•Take advantage of online networking opportunities The newest trend in networking provides unique opportunities to connect with colleagues online and expand your network exponentially.
Resources: LinkedIn is a popular E-networking site, as is Ryze. Some online networking sites are geared towards specific industries. EntreMate, for example, specializes in connecting entrepreneurs who are looking for business partners.
•Follow up Cultivate your relationships. Send notes after meeting a new contact. Be proactive about staying in touch. Recognize that it takes time to build a relationship.
Resources: The Riley Guide offers additional information and advice about networking.
Finally, keep in mind these basic networking guidelines:
•Dig your well before you’re thirsty – the best time to develop your network is before you need it!
•Be a great listener. You’ll expand your circle of friends when you show sincere interest.
•Offer assistance. Networking is not a one-way street.
•Just like there’s a right way to “work a room,” you must observe proper “netiquette” when you’re networking online.