It's this simple. In order to grow your business, you have to network. In person. Yes, the buzz is all around social media and social networking, but the tried and true way to grow your business is in person networking. The truth is, most people don't like to network and find it uncomfortable to enter a room of strangers and strike up a conversation. On the other hand, some people are natural networkers. They know how to join a conversation in progress, they know just the right things to say, and they are at ease doing so. But networking is not something only for the social butterflies. It's a skill that can be learned if you keep at it.
What is networking?
At its core, networking is about building relationships. And relationships take time to build. Just like you wouldn't meet someone today and marry them tomorrow, you wouldn't meet someone at a networking event and then ask them to buy your product or service the next day. It takes time to build a rapport and a level of trust. Networking is critical to both the professional and the personal aspects of your life. But many of us don't possess the skills to use our network to its fullest. Are you a good networker?
The NQ Pulse™
The NQ Pulse™ was recently administered at events focused on developing networking skills. It is a gauge for measuring your "networking quotient". It is also a technique for understanding if you possess the skills to identify opportunities that drive deeper relationships in your current networks.
The 2012 NQ Pulse™ results thus far indicate that while most people believe that building and maintaining professional relationships is important to current or future business success, many tend to do business only with people they know and like.
Only 18% of those who participated have a pulse that is healthier than normal. This minority can be considered expert networkers. They have the know-how to grow and keep business relationships. These individuals have embraced networking as a lifestyle, and clearly understand the benefits to cultivating connections by making others a priority and looking for ways to be a trusted resource.
The remaining respondents were almost equally distributed. 43% have a pulse that is at an acceptable level. This group is on the right track with networking, but could benefit by making their professional network more of a priority. They realize that the people who make up their social and professional networks are not just supporting players, but have lead roles in their current and future success. Only some minor adjustments will take their business relationships to the next level. The other 39% have a pulse that is dangerously low and need a good amount of improvement. This group has not fully embraced the importance of networking and/or does not possess the skills needed to be effective. A person with a low pulse should begin to identify their networking goals. One was is to look for ways to be a resource for others. It is vital to genuinely care about others and their success as we do about our own. The effort that we put into building our network will come back to us in ways we have not imagined.
Do you have a goal? A strategy?
So what other ways can you improve your NQ Pulse™? Think about why you are networking. You may be networking to find business partners, generate word of mouth, get speaking engagements, etc. Be clear on what your goal is before you start putting yourself out there. The next step is to find the events where you can meet people who are going to be able to help you. Business networking has steadily been gaining in popularity since the 1990's, but in very recent years the number of people participating in networking activities has sky-rocketed. Ask yourself these questions:
- Who or what industries do I need to network with?
- How many hours a day or week am I going to devote to networking? (That includes researching and finding what places you need to be to get noticed or meet people that can hire you/buy your services or know people who may be interested in your product/services.)
- How many events will I go to in a month?
- What part of my day will I devote to following up with those I've met?
- How many people a week will I meet up with for coffee?
Look for networking opportunities
Most networking is done in "clumps". Think about the people you know and how you know them, clumping them into groups (e.g. religion, neighborhood, alumni, childhood friends, hobbies, clubs, charity, community service.) Also locate professional or trade associations in your industry or the industry where you want to do business. Become involved at various levels such as attending professional development programs, volunteering, community involvement, conferences, etc. Networking is a useful tool for any business and opportunities are everywhere.
When you keep a busy schedule for networking, you will reach a point where people will be contacting you with client referrals, speaking opportunities, media attention, or whatever goals you set for yourself for networking in your strategy. And, then you'll be come a natural networker yourself.
Improve your Pulse....and Happy Networking!
What's Your NQ Pulse™? Click here to take the test.
By Andrew S. Bluestone, CFP®