The Value of Business Relationships and Networking
Some people are natural connectors. They remember people’s names, love hosting events and have an endless capacity for conversation.
Others are more introverted and the thought of going to business events fills them with a quiet terror. All those strangers and nowhere to hide.
And yet, networking, alongside forming strong relationships with clients, colleagues, employees, suppliers, partners and the community, is an invaluable way of building a resilient business.
The tangible benefits are easy to quantify in terms of the bottom line – the work you receive by word-of-mouth and referral from your network – but the intangible benefits are trickier to account for.
How do you measure trust, loyalty, collaboration, innovation, satisfaction and motivation? It’s hard to put a dollar figure on these but every successful business needs them.
So when you head into a networking event, what should your objectives be? Are you there to meet people and establish new business contacts? Or are you there to learn more about the dynamics of your industry? Maybe you’re there looking for a new gig? Either way, it helps to approach networking events with a few objectives in mind so that you can direct your conversation accordingly.
Many people think that there are only two types of network: personal and business. This is not quite accurate. There are, in fact, three types of network. They are operational, personal and strategic.
Operational networks include direct reports, superiors, people with the power to block or support a project, and key outsiders such as suppliers, distributors and customers.
Personal networks can provide important referrals, and people who can offer information and often developmental support, such as coaching and mentoring.
Strategic networks provide opportunities to look at the bigger picture through mentoring, or simply give a different perspective on your organisation.
All types of networking overlap, but strategic networking will provide the most immediate impact on your business. You should always look to expand your network as opportunities can be accidental. What makes a social network so powerful is its referral potential.
So how do you figure out who should be in your network?
There are few questions to ask yourself. Firstly, who can help you? Who really knows what’s going on and already has established connections in your industry? This is a great place to start. It’s also worth approaching high profile people in your industry as they may be able to open doors that are otherwise closed to people who are still building their profile.
If you want to ace networking, here are a few tips to take your connecting game to the next level.
- Know where to go – which networks are available in your local area? Which networks are available online? Which networks are most likely to add value? It’s good to be open-minded about networking but some events and groups are going to be more useful than others so it’s worth investing in the powerful ones.
- Take the first step – don’t be afraid to say hello and introduce yourself at events, or reach out online. After all, everyone is there for the same reason – to meet people – so there’s no shame in making the first move.
- Provide as much value as you can – what information and advice can you offer others? How can you help other people by introducing them to each other or referring business? Approach networking like an opportunity to give support, as well as ask for it. Nobody wants your sales pitch, but they do want your specialist insight.
- Listen and ask open-ended questions – If you want to be interesting, be interested! Networking events are a great opportunity to not only connect, but also learn.
- Ask for help – If you’re really struggling with something in your business, take the chance to ask for help. People are usually generous with their time and resources the minute someone uses the magic word: help.
- Allocate time and budget – make sure you set aside time and budget every month for networking. Some events are ticketed while others come at the cost of a coffee. Either way, you’re going to need time and money to make it happen so ensure you factor this into your planning and scheduling.