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Business Networking

This material courtesy of Philadelphia-based consultant Erin Flynn.

Networking can be an intimidating task. Many businesspeople don’t know how to go about this process, but there are ways to make it more enjoyable and rewarding. In these tough economic times, it is more important than ever to foster new business alliances. How do you network for new opportunities?

Plan Your Networking Approach. “Although we know that the goal of networking is todiscover new business opportunities, it’s more than a “paint by the numbers” process,” according to Andrea Nierenberg, a keynote speaker for conferences and corporate meetings and President of The Nierenberg Group. “It takes time, patience, and creativity to cultivate people into our lives.”

When Nierenberg first started her consulting business, networking was starting to get a bad reputation. “People saw trade shows and business seminars as ‘targets’ to pass out and collect as many business cards as possible,” she confides. “Ultimately, people networked when they needed something from someone.”

To make positive networking become a part of your everyday life, start with a strategy and begin the process. “Begin to imagine that many people you meet can lead you to potential business,” Nierenberg says. “Think about how that strategy will include tactics to allow people to feel comfortable to want to help you achieve more.”

First, know your contact. Let’s say you call someone up and say, “Hi, Bob. I need your help with some referrals. Any suggestions?” On the surface, it seems harmless. However, people will sense when you’re using them as a means to and end. Have a genuine dialog first; then, at the right time, ask them if they would help you “brainstorm” for new ideas to develop new business.

Second, see the potential. Everyone we meet is a client, prospect, friend, or knows someone who can help us meet one. “Often, the top people rely on people they manage for advice,” Nierenberg advises. “While the president of a company signs the biggest checks, you might want to find ways to let that person’s staff see how you can provide the products or service to help everyone at the company.”

Third, follow up in unique ways. No, you don’t have to send singing telegrams. When you network with new people, work to remember something that is important to them. Then, these topics can become a springboard for future communications.

For example, if someone likes fishing, you could send a follow-up note that has a fish on it. It doesn’t take much, according to Nierenberg. However, it does take some thought. It’s this attention to detail that will strengthen your networking relationships

The Three P’s of Networking

Deb Haggerty, President of Positive Connections, views the successful networker as someone who enters a room and sees people who need to be connected with others. Once this attitude is adopted, there are three steps to make networking pay off — Process, Place, and Practice.

1. Process.  Process refers to how and why you are going to go about networking. Haggerty recommends asking yourself the following questions:

  • Why am I networking?
  • Who will I be networking with?
  • What am I able to give?
  • What do I hope to gain?
  • When will I network?

“With these answers in mind, set goals for your networking — decide on a tracking system and get your tools ready (business cards, brochures, contact lists for referrals),” Haggerty explains.

2. Place. Open your mind to the endless possibilities. Anywhere there is another human being, there is the possibility of networking. Especially good locations are:

  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Professional Conferences
  • Social Clubs and Churches
  • Professional or Alumni Associations
  • Charitable Organizations

3. Practice. Like anything else, proper networking must be practiced to get it right. “The most important aspect of networking is creating a good first impression,” Haggerty says. “Since you only have one chance to do this, it makes sense to hone the skills that will accomplish it.”

Her guidelines are as follows:

  • Keep business cards with you at all times, along with pen and paper to write notes on the cards you receive.  This will help you to remember the who, when, and where of why you have them.
  • Have a “Tell Me About Yourself” attitude. This is a short phrase that will enable you to respond professionally and lead to a meaningful conversation with a prospect.
  • Remember the three-foot rule. Anyone within three feet (about the length of a handshake) is a prospect and possible contact for you.
  • Always smile at people – it’s contagious!
  • Have fun! Take networking seriously, but don’t be serious when you are doing it. 

Bottom line: Networking is an attitude. Your job is to get others to see you as someone who wants to help them. Once you accomplish this, everyone you add to your network will be actively selling you to everyone else they network with, Haggerty reports.

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