Your business network can be one of the greatest investments and assets for your career. Growing a network of strong connections can help you improve your leadership skills, discover new opportunities, and close more deals than trying to do everything on your own. Networking isn’t easy, and relationships are not built overnight. However, with the right tools and practice, you can form lifelong bonds that are beneficial to your career. Follow these eight tips to build your business network.
Understand Your Audience
If you are a business leader, small business owner, or entrepreneur, you should know everything about your target audience. It is crucial to your company’s success that you understand who your clients are, what they want, and how your products or services can benefit them.
You should have the same understanding when it comes to your networking audience. Determining who you want in your circle can prevent you from wasting time on relationships that will not be beneficial to either party. You can also get the most return on investment by searching for the right partners, clients, investors, and mentors.
Whether you need a new supplier or you are looking for a new client, learn as much as you can about your audience. What organizations are they a member of? What do they value in a partnership? How can you get in contact with them and be of service? Answer all of these questions before reaching out to someone or searching for a new connection.
Don’t Try to Sell
Even if you are building a relationship with a potential client, sales should not be your focus. People do not want to spend a lot of time with someone if they are only trying to sell them something. The best networking connections are built on genuine investment in another person. Learn about their business or career, what they would find useful, and determine ways you can help them.
Investing the time it takes to get to know someone can help your relationship pay off significantly in the long run. You want the people in your business network to trust you and value your opinion. They won’t think highly of you if you only ever act like a salesman.
Always Be Professional
Remember that you are trying to build a professional connection, not make a new best friend. While some of your networking connections may turn into lifelong friendships, you should keep in mind that they are judging your ability to be a seller, supplier, or business partner.
Be mindful of your speech and actions so that you do not offend a potential connection or make them uncomfortable. This is especially important if you are just getting to know someone. You should learn how they operate and speak and align yourself with them. Being friendly does not mean you have to be too friendly when it comes to professional connections. Always maintain professional boundaries for the highest level of success and continued partnership.
Have the Right Materials
In today’s digital world, printed materials may seem obsolete. But, business cards are a crucial piece of networking. They offer a quick way to pass along your contact information, and they provide your connections with a tangible item with which to remember you. Business cards still have a higher conversion rate than the average website, making them an invaluable networking tool.
You should also have flyers, brochures, or other materials on hand that provide details on your business, products, and services. These items can help you share a lot of information in a short time frame, especially if you are attending a conference or trade show. Your connections can leave the event with information about your business to review later.
Be a Good Listener
A lot of people believe you have two ears and just one mouth for a reason: you should listen twice as much as you talk. This is a good rule to follow when it comes to networking. People want to feel valued and heard. Interrupting someone, trying to one-up their stories or career, or only sharing information about yourself and your business will quickly turn people away. Also, the only way you can really get to know someone is by carefully listening to them.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
When you attend an event or conference, it can be easy to just stick to the people you know. After all, you’ll enjoy the conversations at lunch and likely feel more comfortable around friends or acquaintances. But this practice will not help you grow your business network.
Networking requires you to get out of your comfort zone and talk to strangers. Introduce yourself to someone new at a conference or sit with a different group at lunch. You should also make connections with people regardless of their job title and position. Remember that everyone is human, and you can be of value to their career. Don’t be intimidated by people with a higher salary range than you, and don’t discount people who are just starting out.
Ensure You are Mutually Beneficial
Networking is not a one-way street. If you want to receive benefits from your connections, you have to give them in return. Find ways to be useful to your business relationships, so they do not feel like you are leaching off of them. Taking the time to serve others will also make people more favorable of spending time with you and investing in your career.
Stay in Touch
If you only reach out to a connection whenever you need something, they will start to dread your phone call or email. Regularly check in and keep in touch with your network. Ask if you can do anything for them, and see how their business is doing. Be someone they can reach out to when needed and let them know you are available for support or advice.
Your business depends on your connections with others. No one person can be successful all on their own, and it takes the right business network to propel your career forward. Get out of your comfort zone, be useful, and be prepared to make long-lasting connections that help your business in ways you cannot even imagine.