It’s common knowledge that people prefer to do business with people they know and like, so if you aren’t constantly building your network, your business will inevitably shrink rather than grow. To help you avoid this fate, here are 25 essential networking skills that you need to cultivate if you are to boost sales at your business.
Don’t keep business cards in your wallet
The minute you leave a networking event, you should note down the contact details of the business cards that you received in your phone, and throw away the cards. Otherwise, they’ll just sit there, and the chances are that you’ll never follow up on them in time to make good use of the initial contact.
Participate in networking groups
There are four types of networking grou, including casual contact networks (networking events), knowledge networks (professional associations), strong contact networks (groups that meet frequently for the purpose of building professional relationships), and online networks such as LinkedIn. At the very least, you should be active in one of each of these.
Increase your visibility
If you aren’t visible, you’ll find it very hard to do any meaningful networking. Entrepreneurs are often so committed to the small details of their business that they forget about the need for active networking.
Put the time in with contacts
It’s been proven that people, on the whole, prefer to do business with people that they know well. Before you can ask a favour or expect a contact to do business with you, you need to invest time in building a real relationship with them.
VCP = Visibility, Credibility, Profitability
This is an acronym coined by networking guru Ivan Misner of professional business networking firm BNI to cover the three essential prerequisites for making valuable contacts. Visibility is a case of them knowing who you are, what you do. Credibility is them knowing that you are good at it, and Profitability consists of them trusting you as someone they can do business with.
Find out what makes them tick
By sitting down with someone and encouraging them to talk about themselves, you can develop a better idea of how you might be able to relate to them – and ultimately convince them to buy whatever you are selling.
Pick up on their passions
Not every businessperson is a workaholic – in fact, many of them do it to further their other, less prosaic interests. By finding out what these are, you can begin to relate with them on a deeper, more personal level.
Sometimes, having a diverse network can be just as important as having a large network. If you only know people within your niche, your network will become insular, and you will miss out on knowing people that can connect you with people you might not otherwise have met – people that can help you in a wider variety of ways.
Maintain your network
If you don’t maintain your network by keeping regularly in touch with people, good connections will wither away. Every spare chance you get, email or call someone in your network, and keep track of birthdays in particular as being a chance to renew acquaintances.
When you are first networking, it can be a good idea to keep a tally of networking points to gauge and encourage your progress. Basically, whenever you make the effort to reach out to a contact, give yourself a point, and compare your progress from week to week. Even the smallest actions, such as sending a thank-you note or an interesting article to someone, sharing their links, or displaying their goods in your store, can count as a worthwhile networking touchpoint.
Give as much as you can
While the essential aim of networking is getting what you can, you have to remember the crucial role that giving has in this process. Remember that other people have similar goals, and if they aren’t getting anything out of you, then they will feel less obliged to give. It’s easy to forget to do this when you aren’t actively in need of something, but you’ll find it a lot easier to get if you have been generous in the past.
Learn how to reach out to well-developed contacts
Reaching out to a contact to ask a favour can be the hardest part of networking for many people, but if you have developed a strong enough relationship, then it should come fairly naturally. People hate to say no, so if you can put them in a position where they can say ‘yes’ without undue pain, they will be more than likely to do so – especially if you are good friends with them.
Have no shame
If you have a strong business need to get to know a particular person, don’t feel awkward about positioning yourself to meet that person at industry events. Just remember that you are trying, initially, just to build a relationship, rather than get something out of them.
Don’t be afraid to rekindle relationships
If you lose touch with a useful contact, it’s not necessarily dead in the water – just make sure that you get back in touch with them to rekindle the relationship before you ask them for any favours, or you will come across as being on the make. Don’t be shy – but if you can avoid losing touch in the first place, that’s much better.
Overcome your shyness
Most people are a bit shy, at least on some level. Obviously, some are more shy than others, and if this is you, you need to combat this tendency. As long as you remember that you are building relationships, rather than trying to get something out of someone, then any awkwardness that you feel in approaching people can at least be diluted.
Have three talking points
Before having a conversation with an important contact, try to figure out three interesting things to talk about with them. These should be things that you are excited to talk about that you know will interest them. That way, you will be well placed to deal with the awkward silences that can often come when making an initial in-person contact with someone.
Make networking a part of your daily life
Every day brings new networking opportunities, so you should try to seize these wherever you can. Often, the best opportunities come from chance meetings, rather than formalised events and introductions, so you need to bring your A-game with you everywhere you go.
Don’t ask for anything from new contacts
If you’ve just met someone, and you don’t really have any kind of relationship with them yet, you should never ask them for anything. If you go in for the kill too early, you’ll come across like a door-to-door salesman rather than a networking businessman – not a good look.
Don’t be in a hurry to get your business cards out
If you treat networking as a challenge to get your business cards to as many people as possible, you will get less out of it than if you take the time to build a few meaningful relationships.
Getting away from the computer
It may seem obvious to say, but with more and more communication taking place online, it has to be remembered that networking is best done in person. Although email and social media can be effective for making initial contact with people, face-to-face is the only way to go if you want to build a relationship with any forward momentum. For example, you could suggest meeting for coffee or lunch, or going to a mutually interesting industry event. Whatever you do, taking a relationship offline is the best way to set yourself apart from the morass of people that we come in contact with every day online.
Leave the work hat in the office
If you’ve just met somebody at an industry event, or even if you just met someone by chance in the elevator, try to make things personal rather than professional if you can. Ultimately, people get tired of talking about work, especially after hours, and you can make a stronger connection by talking about things that interest people outside of that.
Set realistic goals
When speaking to somebody for the first or second time, it’s best to set small, attainable goals for the exchange, such as getting an appointment with them, or just getting their card. People are put off by those who are too obviously on the make, so if your big picture goal is to land two clients that month, try not to make this too obvious in your exchanges. You will be able to develop more meaningful relationships if you are realistic about what you can get out of an early-stage conversation.
Mind your manners
Although networking has its own set of rules and customs, it’s important to be aware of the normal social manners that people expect – like listening more than you talk, or being generous with your time. Good manners never come across as being professionally weak – people just expect them as a minimum requirement for wanting to talk to someone.
Work on your elevator pitch
Although most of the time you want avoid laying it on too heavy when you’re networking, there will always be times when you have the opportunity – or even the obligation – to sell your business idea to a would-be investor. Yet, you have to learn how to pull this off with the nonchalance of somebody who isn’t a presenter on the Shopping Channel, which is harder than you might think. That’s why you need to practice.
Remind yourself – forcibly
After you’ve been networking for a while, you’ll probably notice a few recurring trends in your own behaviour, such as failing to follow-up on contacts made at networking events. To combat tendencies such as these, use reminder and to-do list apps on your phone before you go to a networking event, so that you are reminded to do follow-up the next day.
I am a writer based in London, specialising in finance, trading, investment, and forex. Aside from the articles and content I write for IntelligentHQ, I also write for euroinvestor.com, and I have also written educational trading and investment guides for various websites including tradingquarter.com. Before specialising in finance, I worked as a writer for various digital marketing firms, specialising in online SEO-friendly content. I grew up in Aberdeen, Scotland, and I have an MA in English Literature from the University of Glasgow and I am a lead musician in a band. You can find me on twitter @pmilne100.