Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Throughout my career, I've always found networking to be a great way to meet new people, develop partnerships and discover new opportunities. What I find most interesting is that many people only network when they need something - a new job for example.
But the reality is that networking should never stop. Even if you're running a successful business the best source of new customers is through networking with existing customers, asking them for referrals, and so on. Said another way, networking should be one of your key marketing strategies.
How to leverage your existing network?
In the old days, the only way to network effectively was to show up at a live event. And admittedly, this is something that I still rely on to expand my business and meet new people. However, networking is no longer limited to face-to-face interactions as there are many new ways to connect.
Thanks to online social media like facebook, Google+, and more importantly LinkedIn, networking has been elevated to whole new level. For example, the other day I needed to find someone who could help answer some research questions. Using the advanced search on LinkedIn, I not only found what I was looking for but had a number of people in my network recommend individuals in their network's that could help. I received phone numbers, emails, and some really great feedback.
In addition to social media, tools like online forums, webex, and gotomeeting, make the process of connecting with others very easy. Our virtual connections bring us together and let others see inside our sphere of influence. I love using technology to communicate with others and truly connect at a deeper level than a bland email.
Networking from scratch
As I got ready to create this post on networking, I thought to myself, "Where should someone start?" If you don't have a network or a long list of social media followers, where do you begin? The answer lies in your niche. I've always found it invigorating to speak with others who share the same interests as I do and starting with what you already know is a fantastic place to begin. Not only is this easier than entering a situation that you are unfamiliar with, but gives you equal footing with those you'll meet.
Once you hone in on your particular niche, consider different ways to get involved. LinkedIn offers tons of groups you can join - posting information about you and your projects or simply allowing comments on community topics. Associations and meet up groups are also additional ways to start the networking process. It may be a little nerve racking at first as you'll be stretching yourself, but you'll quickly find others that round out your network and help you succeed.
Networking doesn't have to be painful. And, if you start in an area you are comfortable with, it definitely lowers the barriers to entry. The key is to put yourself out there and focus on the end result.
Networking for marketers and local businesses
If you're in marketing, I recommend that you check out AMA - the American Marketing Association. Truthfully I find the local chapters to be of greatest value but the national association also provides access to resources that can be helpful.
If you are a small business, I strongly recommend joining your local chamber of commerce. Not only will you meet other local business owners who can share helpful experiences, but gain access to valuable resources that can truly elevate your business.
Please feel free to comment and share any networking tips you may have!