In today's struggling economy, the smart businessperson should use every resource at their disposal to make sure that their company is successful. And one of the most important tools in a businessperson's arsenal is the ability to network successfully. Even in today's high-tech world, being able to connect with people face-to-face is an essential skill that can help you increase and expand your business.
Networking is the act of sharing information about your services with a group or another individual with the goal of creating a beneficial business relationship for both parties. Even if there doesn't seem to be a similarity between the businesses, successful networking can create that all-important bond.
Some of the best times to network are on the road: in a hotel lobby, the waiting area of an airport, even at a bar. A shared experience such as travel is one of the best times to network outside of the business world. In these settings, potential networking partners are more relaxed and not “on guard” against being sold something. If there is time to make a connection with another person, there's time to successfully network.
The ability to successfully network, however, isn't an exact science. Every person is an individual and will respond to networking in different ways. Some will welcome the opportunity to discuss your business with you and how it might possibly help them. Others may see your attempts at networking as an intrusion on their private time. There's no way of knowing which person you'll encounter in your attempt but it's important to at least make that attempt.
Here are a few tips that can help you network in almost any setting.
Get a captive “audience”
It's fairly easy to network at a business conference because everyone in the room is pretty much there for the same thing. But by networking at the waiting area of an airport, a hotel bar, at a coffee shop, etc., you'll have a “captive” audience, one that is there for the same reason you are, thus giving you an instant reason to bond.
Strike up a conversation
It may sound like a no-brainer, but you can't successfully network unless you talk to people. But to really be successful, you have to be the one to strike up the conversation, rather than wait for someone to speak to you. You can't be afraid to approach strangers if you hope to be successful in networking anywhere at a moment's notice
. Look for an opening: something they are reading, that new electronic gadget they are using. Ask them about it then relate it to your business and soon you'll be successfully networking.
It may not seem like it sometimes, but people love to talk about themselves. So ask questions. A lot of questions. Sure, you want to get to the part where you talk about your business and what you can do for them, but resist that urge. Ask them about what they do. If they're also traveling, ask if it's for business or pleasure. Find out as much as you can about them and you'll also learn enough about their business needs to tailor your “pitch.” Also, try to avoid asking questions that can be answered “yes” or “no” to keep them engaged and talking.
Read body language
Glancing past you over your shoulder, turning their entire body away from you, giving short and terse answers are all signs that the person you are attempting to speak to may not wish to talk or be bothered. Don't push the issue. Thank them for their time and give them a business card, if they will accept one.
Keep it short
When people are on the road, they're usually trying to get from Point A to Point B. In an airport, they're usually a few minutes away from getting on their flight. If they're in a hotel, they probably on their way out to a business meeting. Even if they're on a plane, they may be using that time to catch up on work. Try not to drag out the conversation unnecessarily. Be ready to make your important points. Be prepared to cut the conversation short if their plane is boarding or if they are late for a meeting. Have your business cards ready so that you don't waste the brief opportunity.
10 a day
Have a goal of talking to at least 10 people in the course of a day. Not all of your encounters will be successful and they don't all need to be “quality” encounters. But if even one of those encounters results in a successful business relationship, the other nine unsuccessful encounters are worth it.
About the author:
Ken Green is a former newspaper reporter, editor and government communications specialist. He is currently a successful freelance writer of business and communications articles. He writes articles for Degree Jungle, which provides information and tips to college students.