How to network and build business contacts in the most efficient way

October 2021
 

Unsure about how to network effectively? The people who are most successful at networking aren’t necessarily social butterflies – they just excel at ‘working the room’.

Building a professional network is essential for business leaders. If you invest energy into building a strong network of contacts, you’ll have the professional edge over those who don’t.

A professional network gives you the chance to share advice, get feedback on a new idea and challenge your assumptions. Other benefits of networking include:

  • The chance to increase your personal and company profile

  • Access to a wealth of knowledge and information

  • The opportunity to grow in self-confidence

  • The development of relationships and friendships

Building and nurturing a group of useful contacts won’t happen instantly, but you still need to take an efficient approach to networking. If you aren’t sure about the type of people you want to meet or why, networking can quickly become a waste of time.

In this article, we’ll look at how to network in a way that’s targeted and effective.

How to network with the right people

All too often, our approach to networking is random. It’s possible that you’ll find some meaningful contacts like this, but a haphazard approach is not the most efficient way to grow your network.

Taking a measured approach – where you’re clear about who you want to meet and why – is a far better use of your time.

Make a simple chart, starting with your objective and then list names or job titles of the people you would like to connect with. You don’t have to know these people personally yet, but you need to have a clear idea of who you would like to meet. That way, you can streamline the events and opportunities you go to.

 

Objective

People

How to find them

Increase contacts who work in sustainability

Heads of sustainability, environmental charities, and organisations

Sustainability events, sustainability departments at existing clients’ companies

Improve knowledge of exporting

Leaders at businesses with established export model

Through personal contacts, business events

Get food products into supermarkets

Food buyers

LinkedIn, food industry events

Taking a targeted approach doesn’t mean you have to close yourself off to ad hoc networking opportunities, however. Some of the best contacts are made by accident and it pays to stay open to any new introductions if you want to reap the benefits of networking.

Don’t underestimate your current network

Networking within your existing circles is often the quickest route to the right person. Even if the people you know can’t help with something, who could they put you in touch with?

How to network in your everyday life

Think about how many people you come into contact with regularly. You’ll be surprised at how many networking opportunities you have on your doorstep. For example:

  • Friends of friends

  • Parents of your kids’ friends

  • Acquaintances from the gym or other clubs

  • People within your local community: shop owners, restaurateurs, local businesses and charities, community groups

  • Facebook groups

  • Second degree connections on LinkedIn

By tapping into your existing network, you might be able to find some of the contacts you need.

The most successful networking involves being creative and finding new ways to connect with the harder-to-reach people.

What can you offer them in return? Perhaps it’s your aim to build connections in the publishing world, for example. Look at starting a blog on your company website featuring newly published authors. The authors will be glad of the coverage and could lead you to the publicists of more established names.

Showcase your expertise

Agreeing to be a speaker at an event may not seem like a particularly efficient means of networking. After all, preparing a talk and a slide deck (as well as attending the actual event) can be time-consuming.

Pick the right event, however, and this could be your opportunity to showcase your knowledge and expertise to an audience of targeted individuals.

Before agreeing to talk at an event, do your research. What kind of people will be attending and what do they want to know? Can you offer them something of value – and, crucially, do you want to add them to your network?

If you can answer “yes” to the last two questions, the event is probably a valuable chance to grow your network. You have a golden opportunity to leave a lasting impression on exactly the people you want to add to your network. Take it and make the most of it.

  • Be proactive. Research the events and networks of most value to you and approach them to find out if they need speakers

  • Be useful. What do the delegates want to learn from the event? Find out their pain points and address them in your talk

  • Be generous. Give them useful insights and resources and make your slides available afterwards

  • Be open. Include personal insights and be human in your presentation style. Invite people to ask questions at the end or to come and talk to you later – show that you want to network with them too

  • Be shrewd. Provide a brief background about yourself and make sure all your contact details and social accounts are clear on the presentation

  • Be social. If you’re active on social media, encourage people to tag you in tweets during the presentation. Always follow up on any social mentions soon after and peruse the event hashtags to connect with relevant people attending the event

Get new contacts to come to you

Being approached by meaningful contacts is the ultimate goal of successful networking. But how do you make this happen?

1. Build your profile

This requires you to work on your business profile and be reasonably well known in your field. It’s a long-term strategy and you will need to be consistent. Look at a few high-profile people in your industry and track their activity online to see how their approach has worked.

2. Talk about your own experiences

Every business leader has valuable experiences to share. Maybe you faced a tough challenge or took a risk when you weren’t sure it was going to pay off. What did you do? What happened next?

Be honest about your experiences and talk about what you’ve learnt from them. You’ll seem more approachable, and people will be more likely to reach out and connect with you.

3. Be the host

From hosting a simple dinner party to organising a larger event, there are lots of ways to put yourself at the centre of a network.

This is a good tactic if you’re less experienced in your field. It gives you the chance to bring together a group of people and orchestrate the discussion or direction of the event.

How to attract new contacts without leaving your desk

When time is short, it’s unrealistic to fill your diary with networking meetings and industry events.

During these periods, networking doesn’t have to stop altogether. There are plenty of things you can do to build your profile as you go about your daily routine.

  • Update your email signature with all the ways you can be reached

  • Review the biography on your company website

  • Write about key topics on your company blog

  • Group these as articles on LinkedIn and tag in people in your network who have an interest in the topic. Respond to any comments they leave

  • Offer to contribute expert articles to industry publications

Remember that networking can be done at any time from any place, not just at industry events. Look for wider opportunities to raise your profile and connect with people. You will soon see your business network grow.

How to network and build business contacts in the most efficient way

Look for everyday opportunities and use them wisely to see your business network grow.

1. Take a targeted approach

While you should be open to ad hoc opportunities, be clear about who would bring value to your business network. Start with a simple chart:

Objective

People

How to find them

Example: Improve knowledge of exporting

Leaders at businesses with established export model

Through personal contacts or business events

2. Identify opportunities in your daily life

  • Think about your life both in and out of work and list the places where you could make new connections. For example, friends of friends, at the gym or in Facebook groups you use regularly

  • Be creative about connecting with the harder-to-reach people. For example, invite them to be featured on your company blog

3. Build your profile

  • Speaking at an event that’s attended by many of your target individuals is a highly efficient way to grow your network. Pick the event carefully and make the most of the opportunity by connecting with delegates and showcasing your experience

  • Look at high profile people in your industry and track their activity to see how their approach has worked

  • Be the host and put yourself at the centre of a network by arranging a dinner party, organising an event, or creating a new Facebook group

4. Network from your desk

  • Update your email signature with all the ways you can be reached

  • Review the biography on your company website and your LinkedIn profile

  • Follow your target contacts on social media and respond to what they’re posting

  • Offer to contribute expert articles to industry publications

 

 

This article was written and originally published by The Productivity Group (trading as Be the Business). Be the Business is an independent, not for profit organisation set up to help business owners and leaders improve the performance of their business. © Copyright 2021 The Productivity Group.  All rights reserved.

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