What’s the point of networking?

Each month at my local business mums networking event in Stafford we open up a topic of business to learn, share and sometimes hear from guest speakers too.

This month we talked about our experiences of networking, what’s worked well and what hasn’t, and I shared my 3 C’s of Networking.

What’s the point of networking? Tell you what it isn’t. It isn’t about Cards. Sorry but there’s no prize for the person who collects the most cards or dishes them out like confetti.

If you want to use networking as an effective strategy to grow your business, here are the three C’s you need to know about networking.

Networking is about Communicating – which involves listening as well as speaking. Yes, it’s important that you know how to communicate clearly about what you do (see my earlier post on 60 second introductions for more details about how to communicate your message) but that’s only half the story. One common mistake even some seasoned networkers make in conversation is to leap into sales mode. We do want to grow our business after all, and especially when we recognize someone we think we can help, we can jump in a bit too eagerly – we’ve all done that right? Or is it just me? Taking the time to listen and being genuinely interested in getting to know them shows someone you value them, not just their pocket, and it allows you to learn more about what they value. Not only can this lead to some surprising connections, but when you do talk about your business, you will be able to relate what you say on a much more meaningful way.

Networking is about Connecting. If you view each networking contact as simply a sales opportunity, not only do you run the risk of putting people off, you’re also not seeing the bigger picture. One story I picked up from my days of breakfast networking was of a director who dismissed telling a cleaner about his business, saying “Oh you won’t be able to help me.” When it came to his 60 second speech, he named the person he would most like an introduction to, and this turned out to be not only a client of the cleaner’s but also a personal friend. The lesson of that story? Networking isn’t just about who you know and meet, it’s who they know and meet. And be nice.

Networking is about Community. The value of networking is far greater than simply passing around referrals and introductions. When you develop relationships that go beyond the initial meeting – through personal follow ups, 1-1 meetings, being part of a regular group, developing friendships and inviting others to join the community – that’s when the peer support, sharing of ideas, inspiration, masterminding and partnerships develop, and I find that adds a massive value to me personally, professionally and profitably.

So these are my 3 C’s of networking. If you’re going to invest your time and energy in networking to grow your business, focus on effective communication, making connections and building community.

Oh and in case you’re wondering, I do think business cards are useful, especially when you have a memory like mine! They are great to help you keep in touch and develop those relationships, just not to replace them.

What do you think? What are your experiences of networking? I’d love to read your thoughts, good and bad, in the comments box below.

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