When I first entered the business world back during the Johnson administration, networking seemed to consist of eating, drinking, and playing golf with other business people. And being shy in my early years, I dreaded much of the social interaction with relative strangers that this process required.
But, I would learn the importance and great personal value to the art of networking. Let’s face it the word is not netgolf or netlunch or netdrink. It is network… emphasis on WORK please.
As with learning any skill, the more you practice, the more time you put into it and the more you stretch your comfort zone, the better you will become. Of course social interaction comes easier to some. But for all, networking in today’s business environment requires an informed effort.
I would also offer two other great sources on this subject. First, take a look at, “The Fine Art of Small Talk,” by Debra Fine. Her subtitle “How to Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills–and Leave a Positive Impression,” suggest that this would be a perfect primer to the shyest of us.
Perhaps the best source I can put you on to is, “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success,” by Adam Grant. Grant presents a holistic approach to building better relationships by suggesting that there are three types of leaders: givers, takers, and matchers. The ideal style is that of — you guessed it — the giver, who injects helpfulness and energy into any room.
So, why and how should we concentrate on networking in today’s business environment? Let’s put the benefits into prospective first.
New contacts and referrals: The most obvious benefit of networking is to meet potential clients and to generate referrals, which you can then follow up on to hopefully add to your client base. Networking can also help you identify potential partnerships, joint ventures or possible areas of expansion of your business.
Visibility: You need to meet and communicate with potential clients and business partners on a regular basis to maintain strong relationships. Attending business luncheons, trade shows and networking events raises your personal profile by keeping you front and center in the minds of the right people.
Staying current: In today’s ever-changing business climate it is important to keep up with market conditions as well as overall trends in your industry. Thus, attending seminars and networking with your peers and business associates on a regular basis will help you to stay current.
Problem solving: In addition to the potential of increasing your business you can often find solutions to your essential business needs by networking. For example, if you should need the services of a bookkeeper, accountant or lawyer you may find the ideal candidate via networking. The same can be true of fulfilling financial needs.
Expanding knowledge and experience: Networking can be ideal for expanding your knowledge by taking advantage of the viewpoints and prior experience of others. Getting advice from someone else who has had similar business needs and has already figured out how to fulfill them, can be of extraordinary value. Taking advantage of the experiences of others before you invest time and money in a particular venture can prove to be priceless.
Confidence and morale: Finding other business people who are optimistic and positive and regularly associating with such people can be a great morale booster. This is particularly true in the difficult early phases of a new venture. Also, if you are not naturally outgoing, regularly meeting optimistic people can also encourage more confidence in you.
Let me make two more important points about networking.
Today we are all consumed with the social media world. Meeting people in person may seem old fashioned in the digital age. But I would submit that, wherever possible, you should network face-to-face. Social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter can be excellent ways to communicate with customers and business associates, but they are a weak substitute for meeting people in person.
As a final thought on this subject, I would refer you to my last blog entry, Hush Up and Brush Up. The best business networking groups operate as exchanges of business information, ideas, and support. And, the most important skill for effective business networking is listening. The entire process of business networking will be significantly enhanced by good listening skills.
Break out of that bubble and get to it. Effective networking will make both you and your business better.