Growing your professional network is a lot like growing your small business—it’s a thrilling, arduous and nerve-wracking endeavor. But networking and business growth go hand-in-hand. Being well-connected can lead to enterprising business opportunities, which in turn connects you with other professionals. And, the importance of networking is only growing. One survey revealed that 85 percent of all jobs are filled by networking.
To get more value out of your professional network, put these four tips into action:
1. Don’t be a serial networker
There’s nothing worse than talking to somebody who’s looking around the room for the next person they want to talk to. While having a coveted 500+ connections on LinkedIn seems like something to strive for, it’s impossible to have quality relationships with that many people. Focus on making conscious connections rather than dealing out business cards like a Las Vegas croupier. When meeting someone new, make sure to:
- Maintain eye contact
- Be an active listener by always allowing the other to finish their thought and asking relevant follow-up questions
- Avoid dominating the conversation
While it’s important to work the room in a networking setting, it’s ok if you don’t cover every corner. As long as you’re having meaningful conversations and aren’t retreating back to the same familiar faces, don’t worry about evaluating your success based on the number of business cards you take home.
2. Tell your story
In professional networking settings, being asked, “so what do you do?” is inevitable. Don’t let this question catch you off guard. The story behind your small business is its greatest asset and should be communicated enthusiastically at every opportunity. A good story can:
- Change uninterested strangers into eager partners and customers
- Clarify your own personal identity and choices
- Trickle through the grapevine and expand your professional network
When telling your story, make sure you emphasize the why behind its existence and why you’re passionate about it. This way, you’re spreading your story while aligning it with its mission. And don’t worry about getting it perfect every time. The more you tell your story, you’ll be able to see what resonates with people and what falls flat, then find ways to refine it.
3. Make sure your online profiles are up-to-date
About 83 percent of professionals reported they work remotely at least part of the time and 39 percent said they socialize more online than in person. With more and more business interactions taking place online, the importance of keeping your LinkedIn and other social profiles updated has heightened. Many people will view your business’s internet presence as its face, so you should be just as engaged behind your screen as you are during a client-facing meeting. Your social profiles should have:
- A professional photo—no one wants to be friends with an egg!
- An inviting headline and description—don’t just let these default to your current position with a generic summary
- Branded content—this could be shared posts related to your industry, snapshots or portfolio links to work you’re proud of or a corporate video
After meeting a new acquaintance, make an effort to connect with him or her within one day and send them a personalized message—maybe you bonded over the little hot dogs at a networking event or had a great conversation about the changes taking place in your industry—use these types of anecdotes to signify that you’d like to stay friendly.
4. Be open
You never know who you’re going to meet. Even if someone may not be your next customer, maybe they’ll be your next star salesperson, cherished mentee or happy hour pal. Be open to meeting people from all walks of life and willing to leverage your expertise to help them. A few ways you could do so include:
- Introducing them to someone else in your network
- Providing personalized advice
- Supporting their work and promoting it to your network
Networking is about giving as much as it is receiving. Before asking, “What can this person do for me?” ask yourself, “What can I do for them?”
Getting more value out of your professional network is also about personal growth. Networking forces you out of your comfort zone into new, sometimes uncertain situations. Despite any initial awkwardness you may experience while connecting with your professional network, it’s unlikely you’ll have regrets about attending a social event, helping someone else’s career, or just getting coffee with a new acquaintance. Every time you exercise your networking muscles, you become more agile at navigating conversations. Push yourself to grow, and your business will follow suit.
Want to learn more about growing your small business?
Contact Evolution Capital Partners at (216) 593-0402.