As cliché as it may sound, it’s hard to argue with. As an entrepreneur, the people you keep relationships with can be beneficial in a plethora of ways – from new business leads to gaining insights beyond your traditional realm of expertise. Strong bonds within the business world are crucial in growing an organization of any size.
But for many people, there’s a stigma associated with “networking” – both in its value and its intentions. To understand the benefits of networking, it’s important to look past the misconceptions surrounding it and have a grasp on how and why it should be done.
Myth #1: Networking is a Waste of Time
Good networking takes careful thought and strategic planning to execute properly. It also takes time. It’s not enough to assume that your hard work will eventually pay off – you need word-of-mouth to drive growth. It may not happen instantaneously, but the people you speak to and convince of the value of your business will inevitably talk about you with five people who will, in turn, talk to ten more until eventually, that word-of-mouth reaches somebody who has a need that can be met through the service you provide.
Myth #2: Networking is Inherently Pushy and Self-Serving
When you think about networking stigmas, this one probably comes in near the top of that list. This isn’t surprising. Networking has a reputation as something of an opportunist’s activity with the sole purpose of gaining client referrals or landing jobs. But if networking makes you feel “dirty” then you’re probably doing it wrong.
The point of networking is to build mutually beneficial relationships across a number of sectors and industries. It’s as much about value you can provide to others as it is about value you can gain from them.
A good networker won’t simply leverage connections for themselves. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. As much as they will seek opportunities for themselves and their business, a good networker will also actively seek ways to bring value to a connection.
The best networkers will act as a catalyst for growth beyond their own business, constantly on the lookout for ways in which they can make mutually beneficial connections between two parties within their network – even if they’re not directly benefiting. As they say, what goes around comes around.
Myth #3: Your Connections Will Always Be Around
One of the deadliest misconceptions to the success of a network is to assume that your connections will simply stick around once you’ve made them. It’s not enough to just hand out a bunch of business cards or send a message on LinkedIn or follow somebody on social media.
Maintaining your network takes time, effort and planning. It requires thoughtfulness and proactivity. Say thank you and show appreciation – let your network know that they’ve added value to your business. Keep track of birthdays, work anniversaries, holidays, and send cards or small gifts.
A small gesture is worth its weight in gold. Set aside time to stay in touch, even if it’s just coffee or lunch or a phone call to catch up. Strong relationships don’t just happen. They have to be fostered.
Myth #4: It’s Abrasive to Ask for What You Want
This is a big one and it can be a killer. People are busy. Business owners know that time is a commodity and they don’t want to waste it. When it comes to networking, don’t beat around the bush – be clear, concise and direct. Most people view networking as a way to fulfill a need – for a job, for a lead, for some insight – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But make it easy for people to help you by saying exactly and only what you need. Specificity allows your connections to more easily offer their support.
Myth #5: Networking Needs to be Organic
Wrong. Networking does not need to be organic. At the end of the day, networking is a business tool and, like everything in business, should be strategically planned, calculated and executed. When entering a networking environment, do some research into who’s going to be there and who you’d like to speak with. Book time for a meeting and plan out what you’d like to discuss. Personal socialization and business networking are vastly different practices, and this is a key differentiator.
Relationships are the foundation of any successful business and networking is pivotal in developing them. To be a successful networker, it’s important to understand not only the value it can bring to your business but how you can bring value to your network. And most of all, it’s important to understand how to network efficiently through strategically and thoughtfully developing and fostering valuable relationships.