10 Tips for Successful Business Networking

By | March 14, 2012

The ability to network has always been important in order to run a successful business. This has never been more true than it is today. Technology has made it possible for word of mouth to travel faster than the speed of advertising. Understanding how to leverage these new tools is a skill that will separate tomorrow’s winners from yesterday’s. These tips should get your off to a good start.

1. Know Who to Talk to – All people may be created equal, but that doesn’t mean they have equal influence. This isn’t to say that it’s a “waste of time” to use social networks to talk to everyday people. In fact, this is an important part of the process and you should spend roughly half of your social networking time communicating with your general audience.

The part that too many entrepreneurs miss, however, is communicating with influential people. Who do you spot an influential person? Do they have more followers on Twitter than they follow back? Does the same go for Facebook, their blogs, and their other social presences? Use some common sense as well, because sometimes numbers can be faked.

2. Know How to Talk – Pedantic? Maybe. Important? Definitely.

By far the most common mistake entrepreneurs, bloggers, and marketers make when they jump on social media is to get too promotional. We’re all so overexposed to marketing messages that we don’t hear them anymore. Unless you have something entertaining or interesting to say, nobody will be listening.

To make the most of your network, you need to address them as human beings and, most importantly, listen. Offer some genuine value by helping somebody out, striking up a discussion, or making them laugh.

3. Know When to Leverage – Knowing how and when to capitalize on your relationships is key. Some are too eager, trying to suck as much value out of a relationship as possible. These are the least likely to achieve their goals.

Others are too soft, afraid to jeopardize the relationships they’ve built by trying to leverage them. These people are more likely to possess the necessary relationship building skills, but they must learn to act and take these emotional risks. Most of the people you are networking with “get it.”

As long as you offer some value in return, you shouldn’t have too many problems. Also, be aware that you don’t need to “win” every time to achieve what you’re aiming for.

4. Pick Up the Phone – Dust it off and get ready to do some dialing. Social networks are great for finding influential people, but they are limited resources for making an impression. Sometimes the best way to really get somebody to listen is to talk to them over the phone. This will take practice to perfect, but it’s well worth the payoff.

5. Listen – There’s a reason companies pay thousands of dollars for focus groups and surveys. They need to understand how their customers think in order to make sure they are investing in the right products, services, and marketing strategies.

Use social networks to listen to your customers, and your potential customers as well. This is an excellent way to discover corners of the market that haven’t been capitalized on. Criticism should be welcomed, because having the chance to respond directly to somebody is far preferable to the customer who never says anything, and simply stops buying your products, perhaps privately telling all of their friends to do the same. It can also be a source of ideas for improvement.

6. Have Something to Say – There’s plenty of noise in modern life, and people will only take the time to listen to people who actually have something to say. If they’ve heard it all before, odds are they won’t be willing to spend a great deal of time listening. This means that some creativity, spontaneity, and research are a must.

7. Be Personal – Yes, obviously their are limits here. You don’t want to get TOO personal, but the more polished and produced you get, the less serious people will take you. People want to know that you’re a professional, but they also want to know that you’re human. The most effective business relationships are actually real relationships first. They are casual relationships, not too formal, not too intimate, but real.

8. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone – Spend some time talking to people who push the limits of your field. Maybe their customers who would typically only have tangential interest in your products. Maybe their experts from an industry or field of study that’s not quite the same as yours.

Research has shown that most breakthroughs occur when people from different walks of life communicate. Networks that have just the right balance of young and old, novice and expert, and mixed perspectives tend to come up with the most creative ideas. What good is a network that repeatedly tells you what you already know?

9. Be Persistent – No, we’re not saying you should keep pestering somebody who has said they want to be left alone. We’re saying that you should keep practicing your networking skills as often as possible. Keep talking to people on the phone. Keep experimenting with social networks. Keep pushing your comfort limits. Very few people learn these skills easily. It takes practice, and you can’t learn it all by reading about it.

10. Failure Doesn’t Exist – Eliminate the idea of failure from your mind. Instead, think of every situation as a learning opportunity. Your networking skills won’t emerge overnight, but you will notice steady improvement over time. Stick to your guns and keep at it. The only way to fail is to stop trying.

About the Guest Post Author

Tom Demers writes for Zintro, a marketplace of experts in various fields that helps connect investors, lawyers, analysts, entrepreneurs, and more with experts and consultants in various niches like biochemistry consultants.