Networking is an essential method for developing productive and sustainable business relationships. For many people, networking seems to mean building large lists on their social media platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. Others believe that attending every organized networking event in town and handing out as many business cards as possible is the way to go. Effective networkers know that building trusted relationships with individuals where natural business collaboration opportunities exist is the most effective way to use networking for business development.
The truth is that all of the above are required to build and nurture an effective network. Like any marketing system, networking is a layered, iterative process that includes several key steps. Casting a wide net is important in marketing to help ensure that your message reaches the largest possible audience. Social media and email marketing tools are helpful to building lists and keeping them alive with occasional thought-provoking topics and news announcements. From a business development perspective, we’ll call this step one.
If step one is all about building lists of prospective networking partners, then step two is making a personal impression. This literally means showing up at networking events and meetings to introduce yourself so that people become of aware of you and the value you offer to them and people they might know. Repeating this action builds relationships as people get to know you personally and become more comfortable reflecting your message and value to others. Some will immediately make the right connection, but most will not and for them it takes time.
Step three is developing and nurturing relationships. This only happens one-on-one. All the social media and group meetings combined cannot develop effective, meaningful trusted relationships as well as personal face-to-face conversations can. Of course, you can only meet so many people in one day so this requires a very selective approach. In the beginning, if you are new to networking in your area you cannot afford to be too choosy until you establish a reputation and a networking presence. However, as quickly as possible you will want to meet with people who appear to offer the greatest return on your investment in time and relationship building efforts over time. In this stage, you are not looking for leads or sales opportunities as much as you are building a rapport and a personal relationship with the other party. Turn on the sales mode too soon and you are likely to turn them off.