Business Networking – It’s not ‘what’ you know…

Business NetworkingYou would be amazed at the number of people who still don’t understand the importance of networking. Building relationships is crucial – there are many smart, talented people who don’t progress as much as they would hope in their career because they are not visible to the “right” people. Use every opportunity to build relationships with a diverse group of people at different levels in organisations pertinent to your business or your career. When you meet people, one introduction isn’t enough – maintain contact with them – that’s how relationships are formed – over time – not just by one meeting.

Six degrees of separation works – the people you know, know people, who know people. Everyone you encounter has someone in their network with the potential to help you. The best relationships are formed by way of “introductions” or “referrals.” Everyone you meet has someone in their network who may be a potential client, supplier, employee, or employer of yours sometime in the future.

Online vs Offline networking – Which should you do?

In today’s world you need to do both! In my line of business, there is no substitute for good regular face to face contact with your key clients, suppliers and colleagues. I can really build powerful relationships much more quickly in this way. That being said, I’m a big user of LinkedIn and more recently Twitter  (see below) – both of which help me keep in touch with key contacts and influencers wherever they are in the world. I also use them to keep on top of what my contacts are doing, help them spread the word on important technology or business news and help target new markets and customers.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedInOnline – There are many business networking sites out there, but those below are, by far (in my view), the easiest to help you get started:

1. LinkedIn – With over 100 million users worldwide and 5+ million in the UK, LinkedIn is one of the easiest, and arguably best, ways for career-minded professionals to connect. But it’s far more powerful than just an online CV. Use LinkedIn effectively and you can reap the rewards for your career – from being head hunted to closing business deals and establishing yourself as an expert in your field using Q&A and Groups. By upgrading your subscription you can also use LinkedIn to target customers or new contacts. I’ve found that once you get over a couple of hundred contacts, it has really come into its own and has helped me to connect with numerous new suppliers and potential business partners.

2. Twitter – I personally have found Twitter to be more effective than LinkedIn in growing my professional network. This is mainly because on LinkedIn, I generally only add colleagues and business contacts I have already worked with in the past or know personally. You are free to follow anyone on Twitter you want to connect with that may have similar or common interests. Therefore, Twitter will help you find and network with new people worldwide. When you are using Twitter For Business Networking it is important to remember to use it consistently to share your expertise, build your credibility, and take an interest in others. Many people make the mistake of immediately pushing products and services which results in alienating their followers.

3. Facebook – Whilst Facebook is primarily seen as a consumer social networking site, over the last year or so more and more businesses are setting up pages for people to ‘Like’. Thousands of well-known brands are interacting with their customers for service queries and publishing breaking news on product or services.

4. Plaxo – Whilst not really a ‘networking’ site, Plaxo provides automatic updating of contact information. Users and their contacts store their information on Plaxo’s servers. When this information is edited by the user, the changes appear in the address books of all those who listed the account changer in their own books.

Business NetworkingOffline – In the UK, there are many organisations that you can join that will help you build your business network – BNI, British Chambers of Commerce, Institute of Directors. All of these organisations have regional networking events.

Regionally in Yorkshire and Humber, UK We are extremely lucky to have a number of great networking organisations in addition to those mentioned above:

1. Yorkshire Mafia – Is an online and offline organisation that offer regular face to face informal meet-ups around the region – It brings together executives and stakeholders from the Yorkshire Business Community to meet, network, share experience, learn, build relationships and ultimately trade.

2. Techmesh – IT & Telecoms business to business (B2B) networking events, receive business development support, professional skills development and professional services provision. Business networking events feature global IT & Telecom keynote speakers and are held in Leeds, Sheffield, York and Hull on a monthly rotation.

3. Hull Bondholders – The Bondholder scheme in Hull is fundamentally about bringing businesses together to raise Hull’s profile and change its image, providing a positive context in which Hull’s businesses can operate. It’s also a fantastic networking opportunity for business people from businesses of all sizes to meet and explore business opportunities.

Some tips on Face to Face Networking:

1. Have a plan – Do you know who will be at the event? Find out if you can. Who do you really want to meet? Do a bit of online research about the people / companies you wish to engage with or ask around your own network as to key people you should meet.

2. Arrive early – people are more likely to approach you if there are fewer people in the room and you can get better visibility of who is arriving.

3. Don’t be shy – Introduce yourself simply by saying something like – ‘Do you mind if I join you?’

4. Be interested – in what the other person has to say. Ask lots of questions about them and their business.

5. Don’t sell – Networking should not be about the hard sell, although opportunities often present themselves and that’s ok. Networking is all about building relationships.

6. Business Cards – Ensure you have enough! Ensure you exchange business cards during interactions (or ‘bump’ your iPhones!)

7. Follow-up – a quick email or a personalised LinkedIn request following the event is key to keeping the relationship going.

8. Follow-up some more – If you feel that you made a good first impression with someone and you got on well, keep in touch.

9. Keep it up – you’ll be amazed after attending a few events the number of people who will start to recognise you and actively engage, especially if you’ve kept in touch.

Good luck with your networking…..Let me know how you get on!

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About Mark Conway
A highly motivated executive with 18 years business experience in fixed / mobile telecommunications and IT Services. A strong record of delivering sales and large-scale change programmes, improving customer experience and with a proven ability to build, lead & manage high quality teams; offering strong relationship building, commercial & decision making skills, gained working in technology and telecommunications for KC, KCOM & O2 in the UK, and with BT Wholesale, IBM, Accenture, Microsoft, Deloitte, SAP and Cisco in partnership. My Blogs: Think Oak! - http://www.oakconsult.co.uk/blog Life Spirit - http://www.lifespirit.biz

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