Successful business networking

Successful business networking
Published: 26 September 2013
The explosion of social media over the past half-decade or so has seemed to touch almost every aspect of our lives. Networking, be it for business or pleasure, was surely one of the first areas to feel the pervasive influence of this unprecedented phenomenon. Does this mean that traditional face-to-face networking is dead? Have we forgotten how to really connect with each other? This week's newsletter is all about rediscovering our ability to form lasting connections that will greatly benefit our development in all spheres.

Business Networks
We live in an age in which face-to-face communication is oftentimes substituted with a digital interface. This is rather unfortunate, because personal communication still goes a long way in terms of building worthwhile connections that will continue to be infinitely beneficial. The well-worn expression, "It's not what you know but who you know", is no less true for its overuse. In order for you to succeed in your profession, it is important that you form lasting connections with the right people. This is the only way to expand on existing business opportunities and keep on growing in your career.

However, the question still remains, "What is networking?" To be sure, there's more to it than just handing out business cards or shaking hands at cocktail parties. Done right, networking can help you forge the right relationships with like-minded professionals who can offer advice and expertise where you need it most. Simply put, networking is the trading of favours. It means having personal contacts who will provide support, insight and expertise to help you achieve your professional developmental goals. And, never forget, business networking should not be limited to contacts outside your organisation - you must harness internal relationships within your organisation as their usefulness can never be overstated.

There are three forms of networking of which one must be mindful when attempting to build long-term business relationships, namely: operational, personal and strategic networks. Operational networking mostly involves internal contacts, these are established by the task and organisational structures. It is usually easy to pinpoint relevant operational contacts. The second type, personal networks, are based on referrals and are mostly external. In this instance, relevant contacts are not always immediately apparent. It is all about reaching out to existing contacts for referrals. And finally, strategic contacts are future-focused connections. These are both internal and external contacts within a strategic context.

For some people, the experience of attempting to form networks on an operational or strategic level is met with great trepidation. This is largely attributable to the fact that the key to effective networking is not to seek out people you ordinarily work with but to focus your energies on people you don't know yet. It is particularly important not to assume that executives or others in positions of authority are disinterested or unreachable. In fact, many senior executives would be delighted to be contacted to share the knowledge they've acquired over the years. Because of their seniority, they may be isolated and would appreciate the rare chance to impart wisdom or learn something new from their colleagues.

Here are some helpful hints to assist you as you form worthwhile business networks:

1. Have a plan
Before you go out to an event, decide on the number of people you want to approach - a maximum of three is a realistic number. These must be people you don't know and have never spoken to before. Otherwise, you will waste your time chatting to old friends, squandering an opportunity to form new networks.

2. Be visible
In order for others to remember who you are, you need to get yourself out there. This can be achieved by offering your services and expertise to those who can help capture your value. Identify your target and approach that person. It is important for people to not only remember who you are but refer you to others.

3. Reciprocity
Networking is a two-way stream. It's not only about you finding the right contacts but about people finding you approachable and considering you to be a suitable contact for themselves. A smile goes a long way. It welcomes people into your space. A friendly face can secure potential partnerships to build your network. Some things you should always remember include pronouncing people's names correctly, and being courteous and polite. In networking, your time is the most valuable asset you can provide to a potential contact. Be available to build those relationships because, at some point, you will want the same in return.

4. Size is not everything
Rather than trying to build a massive business network, focus on quality and efficiency instead. Your networks should include people who have different skills sets from yours and their skills should also be diverse from each other's.

5. Approach the experts
Usually, when there is a problem at the office, we ask for help from those closest to us. The disadvantage of this is that they may not know much more than we do. It becomes important, then, to build a pool of experts to call on in times of trouble. Connecting to these experts in the organisation connects you to people who know more than you do. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share.

6. Build the team
A strong team sustains a good network. It is a worthwhile exercise to invest time and money in building a solid team that will function across the company and bridge the gaps between organisational silos. As much as individuals need to find the right networks, the departments within the organisation must also find synergy and work together, and not in isolation, if they are to form formidable networks.

7. Ask and stay in touch
Do not be afraid to reach out to potential connections for their contact details. A common mistake that most people make is not following up on potential contacts. Find reasons to reach out and connect. When you are consistent in following up, you can build strong ties with your network. It is also crucial to keep track of how often you make contact with your networks. If you have minimal to no contact time with your contacts, you need to ask yourself if the relationship is worth pursuing.

8. Get online
You can use the Internet to work on your real-life networks. There are a variety of great ways to promote face-to-face networking opportunities using online tools.

In essence, establishing networks doesn't have to be scary or difficult. Start small - over time, your social network will grow. Each of your contacts can bring others, with different skill sets and knowledge from which you can benefit, into your circle.

It's important to consider why you are forming these business networks. This channels your efforts in the right direction and into meeting the right people. Understand why you are forming new networks - what goals are you trying to achieve?

When you are able to eloquently express yourself and what you do to others, you will be able to attract the right people to help you succeed in your career path. Remember to keep your networks fresh and alive. You never know when they may come in handy.

Harvard Business Review, 2013, 'Six Rules for Networking at Work', Harvard Business School Publishing, Harvard MA, (accessed 25 September 2013).

Ibarra, H. and Hunter, M. 2007, 'How Leaders create and use Networks', Harvard Business School Publishing, Harvard MA, (accessed 25 September 2013).
- Regenesys


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