It’s Who You Know: The 5 Types of Networking
There are few professionals that don’t put at least some time into networking. After all, the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Whether you’re networking with clients for sales or with leaders in the field for partnerships, there’s value in every relationship that you build.
But, for busy business owners, finding time to chat about their work instead of doing it can be a tough sell. It’s hard enough to find the time in a day to accomplish all the ins-and-outs of owning a company, much less getting together to talk shop over drinks.
Finding the right way to network can significantly increase your chances of sticking with it. Which one of these would work best for you?
Your casual contact networks are those that you seek out specifically for the purpose of networking. Often, it looks like a general mix of business owners who come together for a variety of purposes. One prime example is an area’s Chamber of Commerce. This business network consists of owners in a local area who join forces to further their business interests. That might involve hosting community events, inviting local legislatures to speak, or advocating for particular causes in their neighborhoods.
Your casual contact network is going to require some level of time and commitment. While being a member pays for itself in exposure and referrals, you will have to attend meetings and events in order to remain in good standing. The plus side, though, is that this type of contact is very close to home. The people who are going to be engaging with your business are also the ones that this network is targeted towards.
While a casual contact network isn’t explicitly for trading referrals, a strong contact organization is. Often times, these organizations consist of some “preferred” business owner in a particular industry that represents the whole. For example, there may be one each of a restaurateur, boutique owner, agricultural specialist, and a local politician who meet for breakfast once a month to swap business cards and catch up.
The idea of a strong contact network is that all members carry a business card for all other members. When someone mentions a need for your product or service, they pass that card along. Obviously, the benefit for them is that you will do the same with their own contact information.
These require a higher level of commitment because you will need to stay abreast of developments in the businesses you are recommending. A certain level of rapport is necessary, as is willingness to “upsell” a particular business.
In a community service network, you come together with people in your community to perform service projects that make where you live a better place. These are not built specifically for networking, but it’s a great way to accrue social capital, an asset that can be used in calculating your business value. Along with that, you will be actively forging long-lasting relationships through philanthropy and charity.
While the time commitment is pretty sizable, there are innumerable benefits to volunteering your time.
While casual contact networks are very broad, professional associations are incredibly specific. Only people in a given industry are members, and they join for the sole purpose of exchanging ideas. As a business owner, taking the time to continue your learning through discussions, roundtables, and brainstorming sessions can help you over hardships and inevitable profit plateaus. Often, members of these associations will organize training programs and lectures, where business coaches, experts in the field, and client representatives will speak with your group.
Social Media Networks
Every time you post something on a social media platform, you are doing some form of networking. Just as you would in a face-to-face meeting, you are showing your followers that you are reputable, transparent, and reliable. It’s a great way to build credibility because you can sell yourself without making everything a sales pitch. A consistent history of positive social media interactions will cultivate relationships over time, making it even easier to bring in new customers. In fact, 88% of customers do some form of online research before making a purchase decision, so it’s very likely that your clients are already scoping out your online presence.
Even if networking isn’t your favorite thing to do, it certainly has its perks. Picking and choosing the strategies that fit in with your business model is the key to not getting burnt out on it. So long as you can honor your commitments, you’ll be able to find the networking style that works best for you.
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