“Networking” doesn’t have to be hard to do; you just have to be yourself.
Your network has great potential as a business-building tool. If your networking is not working as well as you think it could, maybe you’re trying too hard and not being your genuine self. Here are some steps to make your efforts more successful.
First of all, it’s attitude
You want people to want to help you, not because they feel pressured to or obligated to. If you approach networking opportunities with the overriding, continued hard-sell calculation of, “What’s in it for me?” it’s unlikely to be successful. If you come across too aggressively, if your contacts feel like they’re being used, they’re going to want to run away as quickly as possible.
While of course you are seeking to benefit from networking, the better question that will yield more positive results is, “What can I do to help you?” Make a connection that sets the right tone for how you could work together in the future.
Goals, target, and providing value
To make networking most successful, you need to know your goals. Is it to get a personal introduction to a few key people? Add hundreds of names to your mailing list? What’s your plan? Keep in mind, investing in a few meaningful relationships could be much better for business-building than indiscriminately passing out your business card to hundreds of strangers. Your goal is to connect.
As you network, think of how you can create value for others. How can you be a resource for someone, their go-to when they need help in the future? If you do offer to help them in some way and they accept the offer, keep to your commitment. Your reputation is on the line. Nothing could be much more detrimental to your networking efforts than to build up a contact’s hopes, have them thinking this could be the start of a positive relationship, and then for you not to follow through. Odds are they won’t be interested in connecting with you again, and if they express that sentiment to their network, it could hurt your business-building efforts many times over.
What you should do is periodically keep in touch with contacts by showing them you’re thinking about them and their business. Share a relevant news article, provide an introduction to someone with whom they can connect, or send a holiday card (or cake!). Once you’ve shown a sincere interest in them and their business, you’re more likely to get a positive response when you ask them to help you out in some way.
Leveraging your network
Depending on your type of business, you can leverage your network of existing customers by incenting referrals. These customers already know and like your business, and would probably be happy to act as your sales ambassadors knowing there’s something in it for them such as a discount, an upgrade, or a free good or service.
Follow up and thank you
If someone in your network goes out of their way for you, first thank them for their contact and suggestion, and once you have followed up on their recommendation, thank them again, and let them know the outcome. Everyone likes to be acknowledged and thanked. Unfortunately, these seemingly peripheral pleasantries often go by the wayside. An email or text thank you is okay, but a handwritten snail-mail note is even more impactful. Make your thank-you meaningful, and you’ll stand out as someone who’s appreciative, thoughtful, and someone they’d be more likely to help again in the future.
If something more than a thank you note is in order, make your expression of appreciation unique and memorable. We encourage our customers to do this with cake, and not just because we sell cakes! To us, cake isn’t just a dessert. It’s a symbol of celebration, happiness, friends, and family. So when you say ‘thanks’ with a cake, you’re creating a deeper bond with that recipient. And that’s what networking – and genuine relationships – are ultimately about.