Networking 101 for All
Unfortunately, as businesses grow, many founders stop building their network and leave the outside activities to their sales staff or business development folks. It is important for the owners to continue to attend and be seen at industry and community events.
Networking is too often associated with recent college graduates or the underemployed looking for jobs and opportunities. Although individual networking is always beneficial, in today’s business environment, networking should be in the job description of every person in an organization, from the CEO down. Companies should encourage networking at all levels and support those efforts on a consistent basis. Most established companies participate in an industry organization or attend trade shows. Some may support nonprofit organizations or their personal charities. However, successful business owners understand the value of networking at many other levels throughout the year.
Networking at the top of the ladder is crucial. Business owners are very likely good networkers already, since it is a critical skill in starting up and running a company. Unfortunately, as businesses grow, many founders stop building their network and leave the outside activities to their sales staff or business development folks. It is important for the owners to continue to attend and be seen at industry and community events. The opportunities to connect that are available to the owner of a company are very different from those available to an employee. The right connection could lead to the contact that will help their companies grow to the next level or find the buyer that will help them exit profitably. Networking also allows C level executives to form personal relationships with potential partners or current clients, giving them an edge when bidding for contracts or negotiating a deal. Networking can also facilitate the flow of ideas between like-minded business owners and professionals, allowing peers to share ideas and solutions in a troubled economy. Most importantly networking increases the chances of finding their next partner, investor, or buyer, someone who is most likely outside their existing circle of contacts.
It is also important for management to encourage networking by mid- and lower-tier employees. First, because it can only help a company when its brand is being promoted by more people within the organization. Second, because the sooner the next generation of the workers learns to network, the better. Supporting these employee’s efforts also reduces the pressure on company owners and management to be the sole face of the company. Company management can support the effort by mentoring employees on how to navigate organizational politics, suggesting groups for them to join, funding the cost of participating, and attending events in which the employees are involved.
Professionals and business owners alike can access traditional avenues of networking by joining local and national associations such as the professional organization, trade associations, and political, social or philanthropic groups. Recently, with the advent of social media and the need to develop contact for national and global business opportunities, internet-based networking avenues such as LinkedIn are widely used.
Once a professional or business owner gains access to networking avenues, the question is, how does one network effectively? There are definitely people who are better at it than others, and much of it depends on your personal style and comfort level. It is imp-ortant while networking not to expect instant gains or gratification. The first rule of networking is “never expect anything in return.” It may take years of involvement in an organization to get a referral. The best networkers that we have met are the ones that give referrals freely and make frequent introductions with-out any expectation of being on the receiving end of either. No one wants to hear an aggressive sales pitch at a networking event. You will be much more successful talking about your last trip or their next trip, last night’s game, or the weather. It is also important to remember that you are trying to build relationships, not talk to the most number of people in the shortest period of time. A good rule of thumb is to try and connect with at least three people at every event. Give attention to the person you are talking to without looking out for your next target. You will have a much more successful interaction if a person feels that they are being listened to.
The most important part of networking is the follow-up. Mailing a note or sending an email after a meeting is an appropriate way to continue a connection. Timing is everything, however, and a delayed follow-up may be worse than none at all. It is also important not to misuse a networking opportunity or contact. Mass emails to your contact list selling products or services or fundraising for a personal matter can work against you.
Instead, nurture and maintain your contacts, listen to them, refer if appropriate, and your networking efforts should be successful and satisfying.
[Business Insights is hosted by the Law Firm of Kumar, Prabhu,
Patel & Banerjee, LLC. Sonjui L. Kumar is a corporate, transactional attorney and a founding partner of KPPB Law. She primarily focuses on serving as general counsel to privately held companies assisting them with all legal matters, including corporate governance, contracts, shareholder matters, mergers, and acquisitions.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice.]
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