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Networking in a Nutshell
<p>Networking is a powerful tool and an integral part of business and professional development. Some people are natural networkers, although many of us find ourselves avoiding events because we don't know how to take advantage of them.</p>
Expand your network and sniff out fresh opportunitiesBy Claire McLennan
Networking is a powerful tool and an integral part of business and professional development. Some people are natural networkers, although many of us find ourselves avoiding events because we don't know how to take advantage of them.
It's not all hard work. With the right method it can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Here are some ideas which you can use to help you get the most out of your network.
What is networking?
As described in the Collins dictionary, a network is an interconnected group or system. Therefore networking is the process of using a network or interconnected group to your advantage.
Networking gives you the opportunity to gain insights into other businesses and contacts, and increase your exposure. At a networking occasion you are presented with the opportunity to tap into a wealth of information and experience in one room. A great asset of networking is that you never know what treasure is around the corner.
If time allows for it become involved with a networking organisation. This will open up even more opportunities. Budget and time permitting, organise to be a guest speaker or a sponsor as this will greatly increase exposure for you and your business.
How to network your Small Business
This is perhaps the most daunting part of the process. Follow these tips to make it easier:
1. Make sure you have enough business cards to hand out and make sure you swap cards; this one of the most important items you can take from the event.
2. Look professional and dress accordingly.
3. Set out objectives for the evening. Are you looking to build your contacts or are you after a certain type of contact? Try and hit your objectives early, then you can generally mingle and increase your exposure.
4. If you do not find it easy to start a conversation pick a couple of current news topics you can use.
5. Take a colleague or business associate if turning up to an event on your own seems tough. Alternatively it could be a good opportunity to take a new business contact.
6. Take a look around the room – if it's not a seated event look for opportunities to enter conversations.
7. Manage your time and don't get stuck in one conversation. The room is full of ideas, so use the time wisely. Have a general rule of 15 minutes per contact.
8. Remember that everyone is there to network, so the person you are speaking to is also after knowledge and contacts. Think about what you can provide them. Even though you might not get an immediate return you might see potential in the future for a returned favour.
9. Don't dismiss any opportunities – you never know where conversations might lead.
10.Set up future meetings at the event – it's much harder for people to reject you face-to-face.
What to do with the contacts
So, what happens to all those business cards? Firstly you need to categorise them. You can then enter them into an appropriate database which can be set up in Excel or Access. Your database should include information such as contact details, where you met the contact and any special interests or insights you might have gained during your conversation.
Make sure that all ideas are written down in your database and that actions are documented straight away. Networking is mentally and physically draining so notes will ensure the benefits are not lost.
You then need to work out what to do with them – do you have any immediate tasks?
Reaping the benefits
The most important part of networking is ensuring you are able to learn and grow from the experience. The more you gain the better. By setting up some tools you can make sure you don't miss any opportunities. Eventually what once seemed like the daunting process of networking becomes second nature and an important part of growing your small business.