Small-business owners and startup entrepreneurs are often advised to relentlessly network in order to build connections that can help grow the business. But while networking is indeed a valuable endeavor, many business owners connect with the wrong people – or the right people in the wrong way.
According to Vickie Milazzo, a bestselling author and successful entrepreneur, it pays to carefully plan your networking, be selective about the people you network with, and build meaningful relationships once you do connect with the right people. Here are some of Milazzo’s top tips for transforming traditional networking into something that works harder for you and your business:
• Build connections selectively. Don’t confuse networking with simply being friendly or socializing. They are very different. For example, you shouldn’t expect a neighborhood block party to change your business. Instead, research the people you need to connect with and identify the sources and methods that will help you reach them.
• Make sure your groups make sense. Even within your own industry or profession, it pays to be selective in how you network. Create your own customized network of colleagues, clients, consultants, vendors and acquaintances on whom you can depend to give you everything from information to referrals. Don’t join groups randomly.
• Go outside your immediate comfort zone. We all tend to gravitate toward people with similar interests. But this doesn’t help expand your connections. Make an effort to connect with people in higher-level positions, larger businesses or who simply seem more successful than you.
• Organize and track your efforts. This is a tough one for most business owners but can produce a big payoff. Just think back on the number of times you’ve attended a tradeshow or conference, met a bunch of people and then went back to work without cultivating any of those relationships further. Put the information you gather to work.
• Create value for the other person. Following up is great, but how you follow up is also critical to success. Too many people simply “check in” with their contacts. That’s not likely to generate much response or enthusiasm. Instead, find ways to create or add value to the relationship.
• Build relationships before you actually need them. This is a lot like getting a line of credit from the bank. You need to establish it ahead of time so that it’s in place when your business really needs it. Avoid constantly reaching out to people asking for this or that. •