It can be valuable to have a network with relevant contacts who understand what you are good at. Because these relationships can be potential customers for your company. And they can refer others to you or your company. For that to happen, your network needs to understand what you do and that you are good at what you do. So, when networking, think carefully about the story you tell. Be specific, address your strengths, and use practical examples to make your story stronger.
How to network?
Randomly handing out business cards at networking events is not likely to bring much benefit. Networking is about building relationships where you can benefit each other in meaningful ways. You call this reciprocity. Effective networking is not something you improvise: it starts with determining a strategy.
What are the benefits of networking?
Networking can provide you with something concrete, like a new assignment. A good network can also save you money. For example, if you share the costs of joint facilities, such as a security fence around a business park, with entrepreneurs from your area.
Determine in advance what you want to get out of your network, in the short and long term. This way, you can ask more specific questions when you meet people. For example, if you have plans to specialise in a specific industry (in Dutch), start approaching people from this industry. Also think about what you might be able to do for others. When you have something to offer, others are also more likely to make an effort for you.
Where to network?
You can network anywhere, online and offline. Online, you tell your story through a business profile on networking sites. Examples of networking sites you can use to grow your network considerably:
- Higher Level
When you think of offline networking, business drinks or meetups might come to mind. Your neighbour's birthday can also be a valuable networking opportunity. Even more than online places, physical meetings offer you the opportunity to (literally) put a face on your company. A passionate, personal story sticks better than a neat website.
Examples of where you can network offline:
- conferences, workshops, seminars
- training courses and classes
- birthdays, drinks, and receptions
- professional and regional networks
- When you meet someone, do not start off immediately asking for help. Listen carefully to the other person and see if there is something you can offer them, too.
- Also consider the long term when it comes to networking. If this contact does not yet offer an immediate benefit, they may turn out to be valuable later.
- Use your own network to help others. By introducing people to each other you show that you like to help. And that may pay off later.
- Archive your contacts for easy retrieval. For each contact, write down where and when you met them, what you can do for each other, and details that you should not forget.
- Make sure that you follow up after your meeting, for example by connecting with them on LinkedIn, or by sending an email in which you refer to your conversation.
How do you determine your marketing strategy, so you can find new customers and assignments? Read all about writing a marketing plan.