From owning a business and drumming up clients to just graduating and needing to make employment connections, there’s one word you will come across time and time again: networking. This word usually inspires images of a group of strangers standing around with business cards in hand ready to sell each other on their brilliant products and services. Truth is, not only are these standard networking events as boring as they sound, more often than not you’ll end the night with a pocket full of other people’s information and no true prospective connections.
It’s time to look at networking in a different light. Instead of viewing it as a specific event or item on your to-do list, try viewing it as a living, breathing, ever shifting part of your daily practices – it’s not networking, it’s connecting. How?
Every interaction you have with another human being is an opportunity to build your network
Be friendly and engaging every chance you get. Talk to strangers, make eye contact and smile. You’d be surprised how far that alone can take you. You never know who could be your next client or even a great referral partner so always leave a positive impression with anyone you come across.
Figure out where the people you need hang out and go there
It’s your job to get in front of the people who are going to buy in to you. As a personal trainer wanting to work with people in the entertainment industry, I go to screenings of local productions, plays and musicals, mixers for actors and agents, and I maintain friendships with those in that industry so I get invited to such events.
Utilize your current network
I guarantee you already have some sort of relationship with people who can help grow your network, you might just not know it yet. Make your talents known to the people around you and make sure they know you are looking to get more business. This isn’t about looking desperate or obnoxiously plugging yourself at every possible moment. It’s about living your brand and putting your intentions out into the world.
Volunteer as an expert in your field
Part of being successful with networking is simply a matter of being seen consistently and always being associated with quality work and knowledge. Seek opportunities to get in front of and help people with your product or service.
Always say yes
Whenever you are given the opportunity to connect with people, and especially if the people are part of your target market, take advantage of it. I speak from experience when I say fear and self-doubt can easily get in the way of saying yes to, for example, speaking at an event, hosting a class, or demonstrating your product. But if you’re invited to do so, take Nike’s advice and just do it.
Be a source of knowledge and support
You don’t need to be pushy to be a good salesperson. I say salesperson because no matter where you are in life, you’re always selling your brand. If instead of treating everyone like they are a potential paycheck and you simply look to help others with your business, you will become more valuable to them. Give advice, give a free sample, give a taste of the benefits of engaging with you as a business owner and you’ll have people approaching you.
Thanks to the creation and popularity of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you now get to network from the comfort of your own home and with a much wider reach than was ever possible before. Write noteworthy posts that will inspire others to comment, and add to the conversation of other’s, creating a dialogue within your industry.
Moving forward, I challenge you to shift your use of the word “networking” to “connecting.” That’s really what it’s about – connecting with others and seeing how we can be beneficial to one another through our unique contributions to the world.