While the success of any business involves a number of factors, networking is one thing you cannot afford to leave out of your business plan. Networking is an opportunity to not only sell yourself, but your business. Although in today’s post-pandemic environment, the process of professional networking has changed significantly. As small business owners, you have even less time and patience for superficial interaction and many professional networkers are looking for deeper connections. It’s important that as business owners, you understand how to network effectively and why it’s critical to your business success.
How business networking can advance your business plan
Owning a business can be, at times, exhausting, overwhelming and demanding. Whether it’s a challenge you’ve never faced or a nagging problem you’re trying to solve, building a network of business peers is an excellent way to garner the advice and encouragement you need to make good decisions for your business and your team. Cultivating a strong network also allows you to bring more resources to your customers because they not only have access to you, but to your network.
Networking puts a face to your business and adds an element of depth by increasing the visibility of your business in your community. Engaged connections and referral sources will improve your reputation, increase your bottom line, and in many instances, establish lifelong friendships that improve your personal and professional life for the long haul. In order to gain that though, you must focus on relationship marketing rather than traditional networking.
Relationship marketing vs. traditional networking
The most important element of relationship marketing is understanding that, unlike traditional business networking, it revolves around developing authentic personal relationships – even friendships – with members of the communities in which you participate. Conversely, traditional networking focuses on leads exchanges, quid pro quo referrals, and hasty interactions.
Traditional business networking can quickly feel like a chore because there’s no emphasis on genuinely getting to know people. It’s a card for a card. A referral for a referral. This method may be successful in the short term, but how strong is that type of connection long term?
For solopreneurs looking to grow their business, relationship marketing can help build a community of lifelong customers and referral sources that is grounded in meaningful interactions, rather than empty connections. Even in a virtual environment, relationships can be forged and nurtured by simply checking in with colleagues, customers, and contacts to see how things are going.
It takes time to develop friendships and establish trust. However, once developed, the bonds based on friendship and trust are significantly more rewarding than business leads that are generated as a result of pressure, quotas, and expectations of reciprocity. It’s human nature that when you care about someone, you want to help them, which is why relationship marketing nets you more of what you want — more business, and friends to boot!
Steps to smart networking
If you are new to relationship marketing, here are four tips to help get you started:
Relationship marketing works, but only when you do it right! Far too many people try to show their most charming selves, and believe they’ll get a roomful of referrals. When they don’t, they call foul. Traditional networkers, check your ego at the door. Building relationships has to do with getting to know others and letting them get to know you.
Your reputation is on the line when you refer someone, so you need to know a person is not only good at what they do, but also acts with integrity, is high-minded, and sincere. This takes time. So share the “backside of the business card”, the 411 on your family, education, and your interests. Commit yourself to this process instead of just throwing around business cards like you were playing poker, and watch the referrals roll in.
You have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you talk and you’ll set yourself up to create connections that are genuine, mutual, and beneficial. Building lasting relationships is a job in itself, but it can be enjoyable and invaluable. Take the time to do it now and your future will thank you!
Let go of expectations.
Forget the quid pro quo, and make an effort to give more than you get. Throw out the reasoning that one good turn deserves another, and you will land in a much better place. Start doing good things for others because it’s what a good person would do, not because you derive some business benefit.
When looking to build relationships, helping others is a reward in itself, and the truth is when you’re a giver, you will naturally become a getter. Line up your actions with another’s best interests, and you may not get a return favor or referral in the moment, but it will come back to you, from elsewhere. So, shift your perspective on the give and the get. When being a giver for the sake of giving becomes part of your general M.O, karma becomes very generous!
Define your niche.
By defining yourself narrowly, you differentiate yourself in a memorable way. Relationship marketing revolves around developing authentic personal relationships with members of the communities you participate in. When it comes to relationship marketing, a narrowly defined focus, will help you define and deepen your connections. Marketing a niche specialty can help you grow your business.
When it comes to relationship networking, being focused will help you stand out, and will help you establish yourself as a reliable resource in your specific area.
Our work world has become virtual, and that goes for human interaction, too. And while most of us miss the human contact, there are some benefits to this new way of connecting. Being in your home and on video conferencing offers many more ways for people to get to know you. The rules of engagement have loosened up. If the dog barks, invite him into the meeting and introduce him as your CEO. If your three-year-old daughter comes strolling in, pick her up and let her say a few words. Introduce your spouse. People are interested in what is behind the screen. It makes them smile and it shows something about your personality outside of work, which is key in making you more dimensional.
Every situation offers something valuable, and this one is no different. Allowing people to see your environment, how you live, and who you live with may humanize you faster than in-person meetings could ever do.
Knowing the benefits of business networking without knowing how to network is incomplete. The main goal of business networking is to engage with people in your communities to create deeper connections that lead to loyal, emotionally bonded relationships. When you approach networking – virtual or otherwise – with this goal in mind, it can open new avenues and spark inspiration.
Joe Chatham, Founder & Managing Partner, USA 500 Clubs, LLC
Entrepreneur and trusted advisor, Joe Chatham, believes the path to successful business development is through strong personal and professional relationships. In 2013, he put that philosophy into action when he launched USA 500 Clubs. More than a business networking group, USA 500 Clubs creates a platform for high-caliber professionals, including attorneys, accountants, financial and banking advisors, and business consultants, to build and nurture meaningful relationships that naturally result in commerce and camaraderie. Fondly referred to as the “Master Connector,” Joe has strategically grown USA 500 Clubs across 10 states with over 800 carefully curated members, ensuring high-quality, like-minded members. Joe is often tapped to share his views on relationship marketing and professional networking at industry conferences, as well as with reporters and podcasters.