Whether you're seeking out contacts that could help fuel your company, looking for industry advice from experts in the field, or on the prowl for a business partner, there's no better way to achieve your overall goal than networking.
Networking can serve as a lifeline for some businesses, which is why these relationships are important to cultivate. Keep in mind that networking doesn't begin or end at a networking event. Networking can be done anywhere; at a bookstore, over lunch, during a conference or in your office kitchen.
"It's a common misconception that simply attending a networking event will bring you new business right away," says Ivan Misner and David Alexander, authors of Networking Like a Pro: Turning Contacts into Connections. They also added that neither will reading books. Like most skills, you only learn with practice.
Networking is just the beginning: Attending one event or handing out a few cards isn't enough. To really put your all into networking, you've got to go the extra mile. "Some people go to the chamber of commerce mixer, exchange a few business cards, then say, 'There, I've networked'," says Misner and Alexander. "Wrong. That's only the beginning. You have to attend a variety of events to broaden your network base."
Follow-up: Networking provides the connection, but follow-ups provide the bridge. Without the bridge, there's no way to get from one place to the next. "A contact that you do not follow-up with is a contact that will never become a part of your network," the co-authors say. "There will be no business—no sales, no referrals, no meeting the powerful CEO he knows—unless you follow through."
Comb through old emails: So you've got an inbox with 3,000 old messages? You might want to dig through them. The smallest thing, like an old press release you junked, could give a connection to a firm or business you're interested in. By going through old emails, you might also come across contacts you forgot you'd had. Organise your inbox, sent items and archives to weed out potential contacts.
Always have business cards: As mentioned previously, you never know when you're going to run into someone, so have a handful in your wallet for quick distributing. When at an event, this is a given. Hand two business cards to anyone you meet; one for them, and one for someone he or she may want to pass it off to. Most likely, they will return the gesture and give you two as well. This essentially multiplies the number of people who could potentially contact you for business.
Take notes: On the back of business cards, write down quick notes about your interaction with the person. Did they mention they were looking for graphic designers who specialise in logo design? Or that they recently adopted a puppy? Write that down. In your follow-up, you could mention someone you know who designs logos and ask how that puppy is doing.
Get a networking partner: This less common practice is similar to referral networking, with a much larger commitment and loyalty. Find someone also networking, whether it be a friend in an unrelated field or a colleague from work, and exchange a stack of business cards. Make it a priority to bring up your networking partner's name when it is relevant, and he will do the same for you. If your networking partner was a logo designer, you'd give his card to the person who mentioned he was looking for one.
Take a chance, reach out to them: You don't have to physically meet a person to network with them. If the person you'd like to chat with has a blog or wrote an article you liked, reach out to them. The worst thing that could happen is they say no or don't give a reply. The best things that could happen are virtually limitless.