Small business owners and start–up entrepreneurs are often advised to relentlessly network in order to build connections that can help grow the business. But while networking is indeed a valuable endeavor, many business owners connect with the wrong people – or the right people in the wrong way.
According to Vickie Milazzo, a bestselling author and successful entrepreneur, it pays to carefully plan your networking, be selective about the people you network with, and build meaningful relationships once you do connect with the right people. Here are some of Milazzo’s top tips for transforming traditional networking into something that works harder for you and your business:
1) Build connections selectively
Don’t confuse networking with simply being friendly or socializing. They are very different. For example, you shouldn’t expect a neighborhood block party to change your business. Instead, research the people you need to connect with and identify the sources and methods that will help you reach them.
2) Make sure your groups make sense
Even within your own industry or profession, it pays to be selective in how you spend your networking time. Create your own customized network of colleagues, clients, consultants, vendors and acquaintances on whom you can depend to give you everything from information to referrals. Don’t join groups randomly. Get an idea of who the members are and whether or not they can help you or your business.
3) Go outside your immediate comfort zone
We all tend to gravitate toward people with similar interests. But this doesn’t help expand your connections. Make an effort to connect with people in higher level positions, larger businesses or who simply seem more successful than you.
4) Organize and track your efforts
This is a tough one for most business owners but can produce a big payoff. Just think back on the number of times you’ve attended a tradeshow or conference, met a bunch of people and then went back to work without cultivating any of those relationships further. Put the information you gather to work. Take notes on what you learned, names you were given or other details and refer back to them so you can make a stronger impression the next time you connect.
5) Create value for the other person
Following up is great, but how you follow-up is also critical to success. Too many people simply “check in” with their contacts. That’s not likely to generate much response or enthusiasm. Instead, find ways to create or add value to the relationship. For example, you might send a link to an interesting article, or suggest a contact that can help the other person. Ask what you can do for them.
6) Build relationships before you actually need them
This is a lot like getting a line of credit from the bank. You need to establish it ahead of time so that it’s in place when your business really needs it. Avoid constantly reaching out to people asking for this or that.
7) Move beyond social media
Sure, networking through social media such as LinkedIn is a great way to stay in touch in the digital world. But don’t leave it at that. You will need to leverage your social media connections offline as well in order to build those relationships. You might even try picking up the phone once in a while.
8) Balance the ledger
This is another way of saying that you should count on giving at least as much as you get from your contacts. Avoid the urge to only ask for advice and help. “No matter how successful you become, do whatever you can to help those who have helped you,” says Milazzo. “If you are there for someone in your network, they will probably be there for you in the future.”
9) Know when to move on
Avoid giving any group or individual all of your time if you aren’t seeing results or getting good advice. Networking is about business, not pleasure, so move on if it’s not working.
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About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.