The Entrepreneur’s Corner – How to Network Effectively

IMG_5927 (3)Making the right connections and maintaining relationships is one of the key factors to success for Entrepreneurs. By effectively building a your professional network of colleagues, business associates, clients, potential clients, vendors, etc., you are ensuring that whenever you need a new client, a new job, to further develop your skills, or build on your strategic business plan you can call upon your network to help you.

Therefore, it should not be a surprise to hear that networking is perhaps the most crucial piece of marketing you can do for you and your business.  Although expensive in time, it is the first step to building relationships that will embody the success of your business.  This is why you have to do it effectively and  build your relationships with the right people that will make you and your business stand out against the competition.

When we all first start our careers, fresh out of college, we are told to network, network, network.  But never did we realize that networking would be an art form that is perfected over time and experience.  And when you decide to start your own business, it changes form and becomes the art of survival that will eventually lead to success.

The first step is to look at networking in the form of a strategic marketing plan where you will lay down the foundation for each relationship you start.  Consequently, you must map out how you will network before you get started.

This column has been written to help you understand the different ways you can effectively network.  With so many social media facets available, you can literally go crazy with networking.  Because networking is very time consuming, you want to carefully plan out how you will network as well as how to determine whether the person you are networking with is going to be an integral part of your network.  In the end, after using all of the social media facets that are available to network, you will quickly see why the good old-fashioned face to face networking is still the best, most effectively way to network.

The most important message that should come out of this column, is thatPeople at garden party

  • Networking is the first step to building relationships that may prove to be significant to your success over time, and
  • Face to face networking is the most effective marketing to date to make things happen.

This message may be difficult to implement because we tend to only do things when we need to.  But just like when you decide to run a marathon, you don’t just wake up one morning and run twenty-six miles.  You build a training schedule, find a running buddy or trainer or running group, and train for months leading to the race.

Networking and building relationships are no different.  You must develop a plan, and then implement that plan accordingly.  Then make changes where necessary when you don’t see certain ways of networking working.

Here are a few ways to get started:

  1. Look at joining one or several local Chamber of Commerce and attend all networking events, and get on a few committees. When you attend such events mingle with those you do not know and spend little time with those you do know.  You are there to network and meet new people, so use your time wisely.  Once you introduce yourself, spend time getting to know the people you meet.  Start the conversations by asking all about them and their company.  Learn about who you meeting.  Who knows, maybe over the course of your conversation you may learn about what they are dealing with and can perhaps pose a few helpful ideas that may solve their problems.  The bottom line is that when you meet new people, you make it all about them, not you. Your goal is to prompt them to ask for your business card.  Not for you to push your business card onto them.  This is an immediate turn off to many people.
  2. Volunteer with one to a few community events.  This is a way to get involved in the community and give back.  When you give back you will eventually run into people who will inevitably need your products or services, so the benefits of your work will circle back your way at some point.
  3. Friends, inner circle, and those already in your network.  This is a great place to start your relationship building from a professional standpoint.  Your inner circle already knows who you are and probably like you.  Therefore, they are the people who will start the recommendation process you are looking for.

Networking over Social Media

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If you’ve joined LinkedIn but haven’t filled out any of the more detailed descriptions of yourself, you’re not getting the most out of the network. This is a professional network who should know all about you and what you have to offer.  So, the more complete your profile is, the more that potential clients, HR managers and friends can learn about you.

Your LinkedIn network is not the same as your Facebook friends or Twitter followers. This should be a pure business connection, so think about what you’re saying and posting before you put the information out there. Putting out the right content is key to getting people to notice you.  So use LinkedIn as a platform to showcase your professional expertise, your product, and whatever niche your business is in.  This is your stage to brag, and be relatable to fellow professionals and Entrepreneurs who you want to network with.

Become an integral part of this community by following companies and joining groups that are significant to your network.  And provide valuable input in group discussions. You should even think about starting a group discussion from time to time that will provide valuable content to your network. Overall, your goal should be to want your network to be intrigued with everything you post, and not be annoyed.

Then when you reach out to them to schedule a meeting over lunch or coffee, they will be intrigued to meet with you to get to know more about you and your business.  You can then add them to your contact list and maintain communication with them and build a meaningful relationship.

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More and more people are getting their daily news from Facebook before any other news source. Therefore, more and more companies have caught on to posting about their business to captivate this audience.  But one thing that is very different between Facebook and LinkedIn is that Facebook is not full of professionals, it is filled with clients and potential clients that can spread the word about your business in a very fast way if done correctly.

Facebook should be used primarily to show the “fun” side of you and your business, to let your audience feel how relatable you are.  Think of ways to get those who like your page to interact, and even share your posts.  You can do this by posing questions about your product or service, how they are feeling about a particular issue related to your product or service, or by simply asking what they plan to do over the weekend.  You can post promotions about your business that will give 10% off whatever product or service you provide to the first 10 people who comment to your post.  There are companies in the retail industry who sell products on their Facebook page by posting a picture of their product and telling their clients to post their order and email in the comments section of the post.  Once the orders start to come in the company will then send an invoice to their email account.

You can also use Facebook to connect with other companies that compliment your industry and create a partnership with them.  For example, you can “like” their Facebook page and vice versa.  Once you start to build a relationship with them you can each share each other’s posts so that you can expand your audience.

thInstagram

We all know that, traditionally, social channels are easier to engage and grow in the consumer market. And though B2C companies may benefit more directly from Instagram right now (because the marketing value of Instagram is still revealing itself), there is certainly a case to be made for B2B companies getting involved.

It would be not be necessary to tell a B2B company that, let’s say, manufactures plastics for laptop cases, to get on Instagram “right now.” However, if your B2B company has plenty of visual content to share and you know your audience is on Instagram, there’s no reason to put off building your presence on Instagram.

Alongside the evolving vernacular surrounding the app (“regram,” “latergram,” “selfie,” “#flashbackfriday,” to name a few), are emerging marketing tactics from brands, publications, organizations, and more that are really inspiring examples of how to harness the potential this new platform holds for content marketing.

Family with children (6-7, 16-17) celebrating birthdayThese are just a few social media networks to get involved with and network.  There are many more available to get your brand out there and showcase the experience you want the world to feel about you and your company, and network with potential clients and other Entrepreneurs.  So it is best to choose the ones that best fits your business and the connection you can make with your customers, business partners, and the community.

While online networks have certainly changed the industry and made it much easier to meet contacts and stay updated on their status and career news, nothing will ever touch the offline impact of face-to-face networking.  This is the most effective way to network because it is personable. It gives the person you are networking with a front and center look at who you are and what you have to offer.  Take this quest very seriously and begin your journey to network effectively to start building your relationships.

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