When we talk about connecting with professionals and building a network, what we are really referring to is building quality personal and professional relationships that add value to both parties.
I currently use online tools and service clubs including LinkedIn, Southwest Rotary (a huge service organization with access to three local rotary clubs as in Downtown Rotary and Sunrise Rotary – providing opportunities for several hundred professionals to network), Yakima Association of Realtors, and Central Washington Home Builders Association. And, I volunteer to teach at Junior Achievement (to name a few). There are so many other organizations in our area — you really need to evaluate and decide what’s best for you given your objectives.
Networking is becoming an increasingly important core business skill. The question in today’s ever increasing digital world is: do 500 digital friends make you a networking guru? How are best relationships formed? And how can you make the most of your network?
Research has been done to look into how professionals are networking now and how this is going to change in the future. London Cass Business School produced a document on how working and networking will develop by 2020 – I encourage you to do a simple Google search on this topic for further reading.
The results were surprising. With access to a huge amount of online tools to help us network, making and maintaining connections should arguably be easier than ever. Yet the survey revealed that one in four (24%) professionals currently don’t network at all. It is easy to underestimate the value of making connections, but these relationships are vital for the span of your professional career, whatever path you pursue. Networking is not only about securing business opportunities, but should be about inspiring ideas, sharing information and collaborating. Those who master the art will be better placed to succeed.
There are so many other benefits. Effective business networking links together individuals who, through trust and relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another. Networking is about being genuine and authentic, building trust and relationships, and seeing how you can help others. To meet your networking goals, you should pick groups that will help you get the most of what you are looking for. Some meetings are based more on learning, making contacts, and/or volunteering rather than on strictly making business connections.
Asking open-ended questions in networking conversations helps build dialogue. Like questions that ask who, what, where, when, and how as opposed to those that can be answered with a simple yes or no. This form of questioning opens up the discussion and shows listeners that you are interested in them. When you are known as a strong resource, people remember to turn to you for suggestions, ideas, names of other people, etc. This keeps you visible to them.
Have a clear understanding of what you do and why, for whom, and what makes the way you are doing it special or different from others doing the same thing. In order to get referrals, you must first have a clear understanding of what you do that you can easily articulate to others. Here at Solarity we call it our value statement. You should be able to clearly articulate your value statement in 30 seconds. Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them. Call those you meet who may benefit from what you do and vice versa. Express that you enjoyed meeting them, and ask if you can get together and share ideas.
Networking is a business tool like any other. Learn how to use it to add value for you and those you build relationships with and it will provide benefits to all.