Networking! We’ve all heard of it, some of us have done it, some of us are thinking about doing it, but most of us just dismiss it.

These are all comments people make when talking about networking. What many people don't realise is that as a business owner, you are always networking.

For a moment, let’s replace networking with ‘influencing’. Think about all the times, situations and people that you influence during your business day.

Then think about how influencing people will advance your business.

While cultivating relationships via influence can be advantageous for you and your business, a positive outcome is also likely for the various parties you are trying to influence. It can be a win–win situation.

So, let’s change the word back again – Networking.

From the above comments you can easily dismiss networking as a useful business tool. However, the right approach vindicates its usefulness.

** Why network?
Simple. One reason only – to meet new people. Once met, you can then begin to build on that relationship – immediately.

New relationships will expand your own network – exposing your business and your name to an ever-increasing audience.

This is the main strength behind networking – it’s the indirect route to people and opportunities beyond your initial contacts.
That’s why networking skills are crucial. First impressions go a long way in advancing the relationship. (See the ‘Dos and Don’ts’ below.)

** Not what you say, but how you say it
The prospect of attending a networking event can strike fear into people, especially the dreaded ‘elevator pitch’. Networking is more than the pitch, it’s about the whole approach and how you put yourself across.

Entering a room with a sales pitch, promoting your business and looking for immediate results will come across as pushy and insincere.

Much more will be accomplished if you focus and concentrate on relating to the other people in the room.

The best outcome is to be yourself, participate in conversations, listen, share advice and experiences and build relationships. People will be much more likely to relate to you, remember you and then refer others to you. The sales will follow in due course.

** Networking with customers.
You might say, “What’s the point of that?” But if you change the word back to influencing again, then you’ll realise you’re networking with your customers all the time.

But take a note or two from above. Just like a networking event, if you walk into a customer’s office expecting a sale, they’ll nod and smile and send you on your way.

If, however, you request knowledge of their current issues and challenges and offer solutions, irrespective of profiting yourself, you will get them onside much more quickly.

Experienced sales people will at this point say, “That’s an obvious piece of advice.” And it is; so apply the obvious to networking and you’ll do well.

** Finding the right networking events
OK – you know where your customers are, how to get in touch with them and which ones, at any given time will be worth contacting.

But what about networking events? Which ones should you go to?

There are two ways to look at this. If you have never networked before, start small and start local, especially if you’re out of your comfort zone. Chances are you won’t be the only ‘newbie’ in the room.

Just do an online search for ‘networking groups in [your area]’ and plenty will pop up. Look at their websites and pick the most appealing one that fits in with your schedule.

If networking is not new territory to you, your strategy needs more consideration. As with other marketing, your target market needs defining and your expectations reconsidered.

Having a networking strategy is common sense, as long as that strategy doesn't appear to drive you when actually networking.

** Dos and Don'ts of Networking
So take the plunge and NETWORK. But remember:

DO listen. DO share. DO ask questions. DO remember why you’re there. DO take business cards. DO get to know people. DO be yourself.

The DON’Ts are more important.

DON’T try to sell. You won't succeed and you WILL alienate people.

DON’T dominate. No one likes someone who dominates the conversation. People will buy from people they like, not from those whose approach is overbearing and aggressive.

DON’T be pushy. Of course you can talk about your business. That’s why you’re there and everyone knows it. But get pushy and they’ll vote with their feet. No matter what they say at the time, pushiness will reverse any potential lead or contact into a dead end.

DON’T expect anything. Your goal from attending a networking event is to get to know people – pure and simple.

Finally, remember that networking IS marketing. It doesn't always deliver results, and most of the time not straightaway or even within months.

However, taken as part of your overall strategy and approached professionally, it can impact greatly.

At the end of the day, it’s about getting to know people and that’s not such a hard thing to do. Is it?

Author's Bio: 

Eugene Whelan is a qualified business and life coach and is the owner of One To Ten Coaching.

He has over 25 years experience at senior management level in the manufacturing and distribution industries.

Eugene has worked in various senior roles including, sales, manufacturing and commercial.

During this time he has gained an invaluable insight into the day-to-day pressures that go with such leadership roles and the expectations to be met.

Eugene is a direct and enlightened business consultant, able to see the practical side of people and situations as well as the more intangible qualities and potential of both.