Content provided by a guest contributor.
When you have your own business you need to be alert to clues the whole time: these could be about new products, new needs or new markets. Expanding your network of contacts is one of the key building blocks to a successful business. A network provides support, opens doors to experts or trusted advisors and most importantly to new business opportunities.
The word “network” makes some people freeze! The important point to remember though, is that other people are just strangers, so if you somehow “fail” to connect with them, they will be unaware of the situation. Only you will be. So there is little to lose!
Firstly, you need to be patient and take time to build up solid connections. Networking is not about getting to know as many people as you can and just “using” them. These days people are becoming more sensitive to the nature of their relationships.
They can sense when someone is not being genuine and trying to “butter them up” to sign a deal or to obtain information. If you want to stay in business in the long term, your focus needs to be on developing long term, lasting relationships. Rudy Giuliani (ex-Mayor of New York) appointed people whom he had met many years earlier, in key positions. He had known people for years and had experience of their competence as well as their values ie were they trustworthy?
So the question you now ask is: “HOW do I go about expanding my network?”
You need to be patient and take time to build up a solid network. How do you start?
- Remember people: Clearly you need to remember the names of your new contacts. Following this you need to register details eg what are their passions, their interests, what did they talk about that you noted?
- Make yourself memorable: Look for ways in which you can refresh your contacts, do small favours or offer help. Stay in touch either through calls or emails.
There are also certain character traits you need to develop:
- Courage: smile when with strangers, greet in a friendly and natural way and introduce yourself. Find some way of making contact.
- Curiosity: have the attitude that you can learn something from every person you meet. So ask questions, listen carefully and be interested in what they are sharing.
- Enthusiasm: show that you are fully present and giving them your full attention. After a while make sure though that you move around and meet other people as well, as opposed to sticking to one person. You can either excuse yourself, or introduce the person you are chatting to to someone else.
- Being authentic: be “real” and yourself in the way you communicate. People are looking for “genuine” interactions, not relationships that are filled with bravado, ego and masks of superiority. The world is slowly shifting to relating human to human not pretense to pretense.
At some time during the interaction, make a mental note or two about the person to whom you chatted. You may even want to write a few lines in a small notebook or on the back of the business card they gave you. This will help you remember some of the details of your conversation for future reference. Get to know your new contacts better through looking for ways to meet again. Pass useful information or names of people you know on to your “new” contact.
Just a last point – get to know people in each decade i.e. kids under 10, teenagers, young people in the 20s, the 30 somethings, the 40 plus, etc, all the way up to 80 plus. This way you will stay in touch with what is relevant in each phase of life. You will be amazed at what unexpected gifts you will receive in this way!
Article written by Linda Germishuizen, (MA Clin Psych) Executive, Career and Life Coach