This is the second half of a two-part blog on small business networking. To start from the top, start with Work Your Network! (part one)
Fifty Shades of Networking
Networking behavior differs among business owners on several dimensions.
Extensiveness – a continuum spanning limited to extensive.
An extensive networker will network with others frequently and the exchanges will be long in duration.
Proactivity – a continuum between reactive to proactive
Reactive networking is spur of the moment, is not sure of the possible results and doesn’t create opportunities to meet and network with others. A proactive networker engages in networking events frequently, does so for specific reasons and with high expectations for results and regularly creates opportunities to network with others.
Depth of networking relationship – Spanning weak to strong.
A weak networking tie is a connection that only occurs rarely and one in which there is a very low level of intimacy and trust between the networkers. A strong tie between people will be marked by intensity, trust and intimacy. These people interact frequently.
As you might expect, there is a strong relationship between a proactive approach to networking and the strength of the networking ties we create. And the data shows that proactive builders of strong networking ties are rewarded with more business. It’s also in the data that over time, we will spend less of our resources (time, energy, money) on relationships that don’t ultimately reward us. Of course, there are also social implications to networking. The more proactive, the stronger the tie, the more actual friendships are fostered and the more compatibility increases.
Networking I$ Paying Off
Many business advantages accrue to effective networkers. When professionals network, they increase their opportunities to:
- Exchange information and share knowledge
- Find new business opportunities
- Forge new connections which may lead to future business
- Build their professional confidence
- Raise their professional profiles within their industries
- Seeking out and including different opinions
- Challenging the status quo
- Learning from failures
- Communicating with people outside the firm
- Investing resources in the networking activities
In this digital age, networking also occurs online. Many of us are networking in social media, and LinkedIn is the number one gathering place we use. One study sponsored by the financial services industry showed that an impressive 37 percent of small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs), who use social media in both the discovery and consideration phase, were driven to purchase a financial product. Social media is also helping to address social media businesses No. 1 challenge of attracting new customers, with 61 percent of SMBs surveyed finding social media useful in gaining new customers.
Get the Most Out of Your Networking
Your networking outings should be done for one reason; forging new relationships with people. That’s it. Keep it simple! And when you go to networking events, go with these pointers in mind:
- Networking is just making new friends – you’re there to meet people, not sell them (today).
- Network with topics in mind: This will get you past the awkwardness of knowing what to say once you introduce yourself and exchange business cards.
- Have a goal: These can include things like people you want to meet, a number of new contacts you want to make, a company you want an introduction to and more.
- Start small: You’re an introvert? No matter! No one’s saying you need to launch your networking career by speaking at the next Republican National Convention. Start small…. Maybe your local chamber mixer!
- Sales pitch? Don’t do it: Use the opportunity to establish relationships. People can easily read when you’re ‘trolling’. It’s a major turn-off.