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The Importance of Business Networking Can’t Be Understated

When most people picture ‘business networking’ a few images usually come to mind. The first is handing out business cards to strangers at conferences, with the expectation they’ll end up in the wastepaper bin at the end of the day. The second is sending out resumes to HR managers, knowing they’ll spend about 30 seconds reading your carefully crafted letter.  

Fortunately, true business networking is a completely different game. It’s both more enjoyable and 100x more effective. Let’s look at how it works, and how you become a skilled networker. 

What is the most important factor in business networking?

Before you start building a business network, think carefully about your goals. Aiming to ‘network’ without a goal can be rewarding, allowing the power of serendipity to work.

However, having clarity around what you’re after is also helpful. That way, when people ask questions like: ‘what are you looking for,’ or ‘who can I introduce you to?’ you have an intelligent answer. 

Are you networking to gain influence in your industry? Identify top talent in the job market? Advance your own career path? Or get support through a challenging business transition? 

In all of these scenarios, the same networking skills apply, but you’ll be looking for very different people to network with. Clarity about your goals is the first step towards designing success. 

What is the biggest advantage of networking?

A strong business network has many advantages. It can be a powerful way to: 

Advance Your Career

Networking will introduce you to potential employers, or people in a company who can recommend you to their HR head or boss. 

Find Good Staff

Having a strong network can lead to you finding stellar employees, based on recommendations from other business owners and employees. It can also lead to you offering a job to people in your network. 

Industry Insights

Your network can be a great source of insider information about what’s happening in your industry. If you have friends in other industries, this can also be a way for you to find out how larger trends can affect your business sector. 

Support & Advice

There’s a saying: ‘you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ Having smart and well-connected people in your network helps you refine your decision-making ability. It can also further your leadership skills as you learn from other capable business leaders. 

Joint Ventures & Alliances

The right joint venture or business alliance can grow your business faster than anything else. It can put you far ahead of your competition, or eliminate competition (by joining forces.)

Some business alliances are made in complementary industries, while others can be inside your own industry. Our article on networking for entrepreneurs is a good resource to get you started on this.  

Frequently Asked Questions about Business Networking

Does business networking really work?

The short answer is yes, it does. But only if you do it right.

The reason why some people fail at networking is that they approach it in an unnatural way. They’re being very transactional, and this tends to repel, rather than attract people.

Business networking is like building any other relationship. If people can tell you’re only in it for what you can get, there’s no trust and no relationship. 

Instead of going in with a checklist of what you want to accomplish – i.e. ‘get a better job!’ or ‘find a joint venture partner!’-  focus first on meeting people. 

Networking is a long-term game. Done right, your aim is to build real relationships with people you like, trust, and respect. 

One good example of a master networker is Tim Ferriss. Ferriss built a relationship with the famous author and entrepreneur Jack Canfield when he was just 19 and volunteered at a Silicon Valley event.

They kept in touch over the years, and it was a decade later that Jack Canfield helped Tim launch his book to international success. According to Tim Ferris, this was the first time he’d asked Canfield for a favour, and after ten years of a rewarding relationship, Canfield was happy to help.  

Networking vs Mentorship

Although they can both be very beneficial to your business, networking and mentorship are two different things.

Mentoring is a one-on-one relationship between a more experienced business person and a less experienced one. 

Your business network is the collection of people you know in a business setting, and with whom you have a relationship of trust. 

You can find mentors through your network, or you can mentor people in your network. Both of these activities can be very rewarding and benefit your business. 

How do you build a business network?

There are many ways to build a business network. There are conventional ones, such as attending conferences or joining your local chamber of commerce. Being skilled at effective business communication will make it easier for you to connect with people there.

Then there are the less conventional, more organic ways. One of the best ways to build your network is simply to ask for recommendations from people you know in business. “Is there anyone you know in business who you think I’d enjoy meeting? Can you set something up?” It can really be that simple.

The power of a good network increases as your network expands. This means that as your network grows, you gain secondary connections to more people. The effect compounds on itself. Many successful entrepreneurs say their most important asset is their shared network with other people in business. The real key here is making sure you have a real relationship based on know, like, and trust.

Another way to build your network is through mentoring and being mentored. The right mentor can introduce you to amazing business people, and mentoring helps you connect to the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Volunteering is an often overlooked way to grow your network. You can meet very interesting people by volunteering at events. This includes the event speakers and event organisers, who are often very well connected. 

Advising is another way to connect with people in the business world. This could mean being on an advisory board for a business or offering your services as a consultant. An example of an indirect form of this type of networking would be joining your school advisory board. Depending on the neighbourhood your school is in, you may end up in a group of top business people. 

Networking Philosophy

Don’t be a d*%#

“In nine hundred years of time and space and I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important” – The Doctor

In their rush to connect with important or famous business figures, some people push past or ignore the ‘nobodies’ at business events. This is a mistake.

Apart from the obvious rudeness factor, you never know how fate may pan out. Karma has a sense of irony. That intern you brushed off yesterday could be the chequebook holder of a well-funded company in a few years. 

Don’t dismiss people as if they weren’t important. Because it simply isn’t true.

Another Tim Ferriss networking story: Tim was at SXSW, a huge tech conference, and wanted to connect with the famous tech blogger Robert Scoble. Scoble was being mobbed by techie fanboys, so Tim spent his time chatting with a nice, quiet lady on the sidelines…who turned out to be Scoble’s wife.

After the mobbing, Mrs Scoble drew her husband aside and said ‘I’d like you to meet this nice young man, Tim Ferriss.’ Being polite and attentive to the person right in front of you is the best way to network. 

In addition, if you do want to meet someone famous, their gatekeepers are the ones who control their appointment calendar. Being abrupt to a PA in an attempt to get to the person whose time they’re protecting is guaranteed to get you nowhere.

Business networking isn’t a trophy collection. A few deep conversations with people you really connect with is worth 100 shallow ‘here’s my business card’ interactions.

This is especially true if you’re lucky enough to build a relationship with a connector. Connectors have extensive networks and enjoy introducing people to each other. Just one connector can open the door to an amazing network of people you’d never otherwise have met.

Maintaining Your Network

The principle here is simple: keep in touch with people in your network, and see how you can help them. And when you have a genuine request, reach out to people in your network who you think can help you, and ask them. 

Keeping in touch can be a formal thing: your group meets up every month. Or it can be very informal – you email a colleague whenever something comes up you think would interest them. 

None of this stuff is rocket science – it’s the same way you’d keep in touch with a friend. The only difference is that this friend is someone you know in a business context. The principle is to put effort into the relationships you have with people that you know, like, and trust, and be helpful to them.

Summary

Business networking is a vital skill that can lead to business growth and a rewarding career. The best way to pursue it, though, is as a goal in its own right (not for what it can get you.)

A really great network will be full of people you respect, trust, and genuinely enjoy spending time with. This will bring richness to your life in ways far beyond material gain. 

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