Many consultants and business “coaches” are out there peddling shortcut solutions to business success. However, just as we have known for decades that a balanced diet and regular exercise is the key to good health, there are also tried and true methods for business success. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts or schemes that will make you successful in the long run. Diligence, a commitment to customer service, offering a quality product or service—all of these elements are crucial to establishing a profitable business enterprise. One element that is often overlooked is the importance of knowing how to network, even if it’s something that doesn’t come naturally.
Networking is critical to position your business for long-term growth. As a woman of color, I initially found it challenging to put myself out there in venues where most other business owners were white males. It is human nature to want to stay with what is comfortable to us and to do business with people most like ourselves. You may be able to grow your business initially by sticking to what you know and are familiar with but eventually, you are going to hit a wall that will make further growth difficult, if not impossible.
How to Network in Easy Steps
Identify the Networking Groups For You
The first step to networking is to identify the type of networking group that is going to work best for you. There are open networking groups, like your local chamber of commerce and there are closed networking groups like BNI (Business Networking International). When you are first starting out you might feel intimidated by people in your industry that are already present in these groups. Especially as a woman of color, it can seem daunting when you first start out. Don’t be discouraged, you are unique and you bring a different perspective to the table. Believe in your services and provide good customer care, the business will speak for itself.
Once you determine which type of networking situation is most comfortable for you, you need to start attending that group regularly. Showing up once and deciding it’s not for you because you didn’t leave with a sale is not how networking works.
Work the Room
Business networking is a long-term project and not something you should expect to bear fruit immediately. A good analogy is that of being a gardener. When you are networking, you have to go in with the idea that you are planting seeds. Some of those seeds will sprout and grow and others will not, which is why it is important to plant as many of them as possible. Some may not germinate for quite a while only to bear a bountiful crop when you least expect it.
When you go into a networking meeting, you should enter with the idea that you are going to make a sincere effort to get to know everyone in the room. The initial goal isn’t to close a deal; it is to start building relationships! Go from group to group, put on a smile and offer a firm handshake. Ask the other people in attendance about their business, their families, what problems they are facing—allow the conversation to develop organically and naturally. If someone expresses frustrations or recounts a problem that you can help with, feel free to offer your advice but remember the purpose of these first meetings is to build relationships, not close deals.
Like any good gardener, you will need to be patient and tend your relationships. Periodically, you will need to circle back to people to see how they are doing and if you can offer any assistance. Just because someone is not an immediate prospect doesn’t mean that they can’t help you in other ways. It is a truism of human nature that we tend to do business with our friends, as a business owner you need all the friends you can get.
People in your network may introduce you to other hot prospects or they may help open doors for you that you couldn’t get through on your own. Alternatively, they may just become good friends; there is nothing wrong with having more friends! Above all else, be patient. Networking takes time but if you stick to a steady course, you will find yourself reaping greater rewards as time goes on. Business success is a marathon, not a sprint.