Networking can be pivotal in helping you grow your business, allowing you to meet like-minded professionals, business owners, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs.
The power of business networking should be recognized for the value it provides—to consistently increase the prospects you acquire while nurturing mutually beneficial relationships. If you’re looking to boost your networking efforts, the following ideas can help you maximize your connection-building potential and create lasting relationships that will drive your business for years to come.
Types of networking groups
There are several networking platforms available to business owners and other professionals. You may consider joining more than one, depending on the rules of the group, as some allow members of only one profession or industry. Do your research to determine which group pairs best with your goals, expectations, time commitment, and financial obligations.
These groups are far less formal than others and allow professions and industries to overlap. A chamber of commerce is an example of this type of group. It’s generally local to a town or city, or, for a broader reach, a region. These are usually face-to-face monthly meetings held as breakfasts, luncheons, or evening mixers or even for fundraising purposes. They may also include a guest speaker who sponsors the meal. There are no requirements to refer new members or attend a certain number of meetings, so if you want a more relaxed and flexible networking experience, this may be the best choice.
Highly structured groups typically have one member per profession and may require a yearly membership fee. Some of the most recognizable groups include LeTip International; Business Networking International (BNI); Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), a global leadership community for chief executives under forty-five years old; Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), which accepts members forty years old and younger; and Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), an exclusive entrepreneurial, peer-to-peer network, focusing on mentorships and global networking. Since COVID-19 began, many of these groups now offer both in-person and virtual attendance or a combination of both.
If you want to become a member, you will be vetted or interviewed before acceptance. Most often, you’re required to attend a certain number of meetings, whether weekly or monthly, and you’re expected to provide referrals to other members each time you meet. (Every group has its own quotas.) Spots for real estate agents and financial advisors are highly competitive, so it may take time to get in if you are in these industries.
Business leaders will often donate their time to nonprofit groups, such as Rotary International, arts and cultural organizations, advocacy, school, or religious groups, and community food banks. Though not set up as a typical networking forum, community service is a chance to meet other local people, allowing you to broaden your personal and professional networks.
In these industry-specific groups, such as banking, legal, financial, or health care, the primary focus is to exchange ideas and information with professional peers. By joining this type of networking group, you will be able to build relationships that may open doors for you in the future, gain new contacts and potential clients, and tap into target markets.
Best networking practices
David DeCelle, president of Model FA, speaker, entrepreneur, and financial advisor coach, believes that when you’re networking and trying to build a professional relationship, you must begin with how you can give back. “It’s about the law of reciprocity. You should make multiple deposits—meaning you provide help and value—rather than making withdrawals where you take instead of giving.”
Here are some of DeCelle’s best tips for maximizing your networking efforts.
Listen and learn
“We have two ears and one mouth, so use them correctly,” says DeCelle. Networking is not transactional; to be successful at it, you need to listen and connect on a personal basis with the person you are talking to. It could be about their kids, common hobbies, travel, or food interests. As you begin to build on these relationships, do not ask questions for your benefit. Rather, dig deep and avoid surface-level small talk. Ask specific questions such as, ‘What is it about your work that you love?’
Create an elevator speech
An elevator speech is a way to share who you are and what you do in the amount of time it takes to ride in an elevator. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to encapsulate all of who you are in a thirty-second pitch. DeCelle says that people often spend too much time on their elevator speech and that it should be no more than two sentences. State why you love what you do and the kind of people you like to help. People want to know you care about them.
Respect other professional relationships
If you are a financial advisor and the person you are speaking with tells you they already have a financial advisor, avoid selling yourself and your products. It’s best to acknowledge that you are happy they have this other relationship. View this as a moment of opportunity to learn what other professionals are doing in your field. This is also the perfect chance to obtain their LinkedIn handle or other contact information.
Slow and steady wins the race. Since relationships need to be cultivated, you need to set realistic expectations. According to DeCelle, it can take up to twenty-four months before you begin to reap the rewards of your networking efforts. During that time frame, you should only be concerned about making deposits. Also, it can take time to sort through which groups are the most beneficial for you.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is their lack of follow-up after a networking event. To be an effective, successful power networker, you must not overlook this task. DeCelle recommends spending ninety minutes per day doing business-development activities by sending follow-up emails, phone calls, or texts. He is also a proponent of sending video messages as a follow-up because it makes it more personal. (Websites like loom.com have useful tools to help with this.) Start pushing out lots of well-thought-out content to your new contacts so you remain top of mind.
Build a referral system
Successful networking means building a robust referral network. You can accomplish this by thinking about conversations you’ve had with people you met. You could make the meet-up casual and social by having dinner or drinks with them or more professional and organized by inviting them to a lunch-and-learn seminar, where you can share valuable information. As you begin to build trust and credibility, the number of referrals should markedly grow.
Leverage social media
Though in-person networking is a very productive way to grow your professional network, social media is a more scalable way to build your brand, following, and credibility. DeCelle recommends identifying twenty people you want to know and then focusing on connecting with them on multiple platforms. This will give you a lens into where they like to congregate and what their interests are. You can then lead with value by sharing useful content, which will serve as soft touches as they scroll through their social media feeds.
Whether you are a seasoned networker or just beginning this journey, you can build your business exponentially by implementing these networking strategies. Remember to always be a good listener, ask engaging questions, and construct an ironclad follow-up system. If you remain consistent and diligent in your efforts, you’re guaranteed to see it pay off.
TAKE ACTION: Do some research on the best type of networking group for you based on your goals and industry, and commit to joining one such group this year.