I did not like to do business networking. Maybe it’s the same for you. Perhaps, like me, you’d much rather be doing other things than walking into a room filled with people you don’t know.
But whether we like it or not, we need to make other people aware of our businesses. We need to get the word out about what we do and what services we offer. After all, people aren’t going to find out about how wonderful our businesses are by simply doing a Google search. It really helps if they have opportunities to meet you – in the flesh or even virtually, via Zoom – but to actually see you and get to know you as a human being.
It’s important to understand the meaning of the term as a noun – “network/networking” – and as an active verb – “to network/do networking”. Simply put, networking means building connections with other professionals. It’s about growing your connections. Many people may wonder whether they even have a network to grow in the first place. Well, you might believe that you haven’t got a network, but the reality is that everyone does. The people you know in your everyday life – family, friends, neighbours, people you meet when you go out on your daily walks or errands – they’re your network. They’re people you’d naturally want to talk to about what’s going on in your life, what you’re up to, and what your business is all about. And you can grow that network.
Here are five top reasons why you should learn to love networking.
1. Networking builds trust.
Contrary to what one might naturally believe, networking isn’t necessarily about selling. If you were to go to networking events and immediately start trying to making business deals, you’d likely a somewhat chilly reception. That’s because a key aspect of networking is building trust. Although you may indeed be able to get a sale from a networking later on down the road, typically sales or deals will happen when you least expect them – and only after built up a solid foundation friendship and trust. Business referrals do occur at networking events, but those referrals are organic – they arise naturally from authentic relationships between people.
2. Networking opens up doors to the people we may need
However, networking is much more than just about selling. We can network to find a mentor, find someone we trust, and to find sponsors for our projects. Networking is about connecting, finding out the information you need, people who can help us, trustworthy people willing to give their time to partner with us on our projects. It’s a great way to find suppliers of services you might need. When I was first setting up the website for my content writing business, for example, I didn’t realise that I needed up-to-date photographs. But at one of my networking meetings, I met a photographer who understood where I was at with my business and explained why I might need her services.
3. Networking can open the door to unexpected opportunities
Networking is not just about the people in the room. It’s primarily about the people that the people in the room may know. So often it happens that a person may be looking for a particular service, and someone at a networking event knows someone outside the networking group who can deliver that service. Or vice versa: someone at a networking event will know someone from outside who needs a particular service which you can deliver.
Perhaps that’s why it’s never a good idea to dismiss or give the cold shoulder to anyone in the room at a networking event. That person may just so happen to hold the handshake that opens the doorway to the opportunity of your lifetime.
4. Networking is a cost-efficient form of marketing
There’s also a solid dollar-and-cents reason why you should network. If you run a small business, it’s likely that you don’t have a huge marketing budget. You still need to get your message out there. Networking is a great way to do so. It’s a form of marketing that’s affordable. All it takes is your being a member of a networking group, and you have an immediate entrée to a roomful of entrepreneurs and potential investors and business partners.
5. Networking exposes you to a diverse range of people and businesses
The fifth top reason why you should start to love networking is that it allows you to mingle with people and businesses in very different industries and fields from your own. This is very important. The diversity of experiences, perspectives, and ways of doing things provides a very fertile ground for the exciting entrepreneurial synergy that happens when people from very different spheres interact. Wonderful and creative things can happen at business networking events.
Things to keep in mind as you network
One key strategy to making networking a successful and meaningful experience is to try not to think about yourself. It sounds counter-intuitive. But it’s true. The best mindset with which to enter a networking event is one in which you think about the other people in the room and what you could do to help them. Perhaps your unique skills might be of service. Or perhaps you might know someone who could help them. It’s not really about you.
Let’s be honest, though: there are times when you might feel a little bit like a fish out of water at some of the more conventional business networking events. If that’s the case, you should know that there are many different types of network. It’s possible to find a network geared towards to your own type of business or industry. For example, since I’m a content writer and a voiceover talent, I recently joined a network geared towards creatives – the Creative Collective – where I met and interacted with a diverse range of people involved in creative activities like graphic design, voiceover acting, videographers, web design, music composing, publishing, and copywriting.
How to grow your network
There are two main ways you can grow your network: one is through traditional, face-to-face meetings, and the other is through online networking. The purpose, of course, is to connect with other people and build relationships. Social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram offers a great way to amplify our networking through the opportunities they offer us to join groups related to our hobbies or professional interests. For instance, on Facebook, I belong to the Voiceover Startup and Freelance Writers Community groups, and on LinkedIn, I belong to the Voiceover Professionals and American Writers and Artists Institute.
And so, the next time you feel inclined to skip a networking event or see it as a chore, keep all of the things I’ve mentioned above in mind. Keep doing it. Be consistent. Make it an instinctual habit. Try to keep the faith, and gradually you may learn to love networking.