Networking is an essential activity for anyone starting out in business. However many young people fail to network effectively, and as a result often miss out on amazing opportunities. In this article I’m going to talk about why you need to network, and how to go about doing it.
In short, networking is the developing and maintaining of contacts and personal connections with a variety of people who might be helpful to you and your career. In fact, you most likely network every day without even realising it; how often do you pass on recommendations to a friend about a good film, a new website, a place to eat or something similar? I would bet you do so quite a lot. Networking in the business world is very similar, only the focus is on helping each other out in business.
There are plenty of ways that you can start networking, now more than ever thanks to the internet. It's perfectly natural to be a little anxious about it if you've never done it before, but you can be sure that there are many others out there who are in exactly the same boat. The easiest way to begin is to join a few internet networking sites and forums. Introduce yourself and get involved in some discussions.
Once you feel a bit more comfortable with the whole idea, start attending some events. It doesn’t have to be at networking events, just anywhere you are likely to meet people who could be useful in business. This could be tradeshows, seminars or even social events. The important thing is just to get out there and start building some new relationships. Remember, you could have the greatest product or service the world has ever seen. But if no one knows who you are, it’s worthless.
Like most things, networking is a skill that is best learned by getting out there and doing it. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. However there are some guidelines that should be followed if you want to get the most from your networking efforts:
Networking is about building relationships, NOT pitching to people:
When meeting someone of the first time your number one focus should be on creating the foundations of a new relationship. The fastest way to alienate someone that you’ve just met is to launch off into a sales pitch about your business. The only thing that you should be trying to sell at first is a reason for that person to like you and want to get to know you better.
Focus the conversation on them, not you:
Ever heard the saying that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason, and that they should be used in precisely that ratio? Well that saying holds true when networking. People love to talk about themselves, and they will also love talking to you if you genuinely show an interest and listen to what they have to say.
Always give before you ask for something back:
There is a great saying that goes relationships are like bank accounts, you should always aim to keep them in the black. You should always give help to those in your network before asking for things. By doing this you ensure that people in your network will be happy to return the favour.
Always follow-up after meeting someone:
This is such an important point that really can’t be stressed enough. Why go to all the effort of finding and opening a dialogue with a new contact, only to run the risk of never hearing from them again because you didn’t follow up? The day after the event make sure that you send your new contact a short email thanking them, and saying how great it was to meet them. This simple act can mean the difference between the relationship lasting, and never hearing from them again.