Relationship-driven business contacts frequently generate a great deal of business, today, a year from now, or five years in the future. The more people you network with, the more people who know about your business acumen, and the better your chances of being a successful businesswoman.
Your best business opportunities come through networking. The following 10 networking steps can help women make the most of them:
- Access Your Network. Every businesswoman has a network. One way to determine your network is to make a list of those you have done favors for and those who have done favors for you. Next add any names of people you would like to know, for example, businesswomen you admire. That’s your network. Now build onto your network by asking the people in it if they know anyone looking for the kind of services or product that you provide. Always use the person’s name that referred you when you speak with your potential network contact. You can also find potential contacts by joining networking associations in your industry or field.
- Be Prepared. Be prepared by doing your homework. As a responsible networking businesswoman, find out as much as you can about your potential business associate before making contact. If possible, get together for coffee or lunch. When meeting in person, follow business etiquette by dressing and acting the part to avoid being viewed as a mom, a sister, a daughter, or any other female relative.
- Communicate Clearly. Be clear and in the moment, personable but not personal. Keep in mind that cross-gender networking has different body language and conversation styles. Notice the person’s tone, posture, hand movements, eye contact, and so forth. Also remember that the person is checking you out, too. Avoid making hasty judgments, but at the same time, rely on your first impressions. When talking with the potential contact, during the first 30 seconds, speak clearly. During the second 30 seconds, the person will be waiting for you to finish, as she or he is ready to respond. During the third 30 seconds, allow the person to speak. Also be sure to give a well-placed, genuine compliment whenever possible.
- Take Notes. Bring to the meeting a notebook and pen or, better yet, your laptop. Describe yourself and your business in a brief, interesting way. Ask a few intelligent, open-ended questions. Share ideas, thoughts, and information. Be both interested and interesting. Make a note of the date and time, who you met, where and why, and what you discussed. Also note pertinent ideas, information, names dropped, and any personal information that is shared. This applies whether the meeting is in person or over the phone.
- Exchange Business Cards and Pick Up the Tab. Toward the end of your initial meeting is the time to exchange business cards and contact information. By that time, you will usually know if you want to add the person to your networking list. Don’t tolerate business associates whose behavior is questionable. Also, if you initiated the contact, offer to pick up the tab.
- Follow Up. Follow-up is the key to successful networking. To keep the association viable, e-mail, phone, or write the contact, and deliver what you have promised. Acknowledge leads and referrals with notes of thanks, either by e-mail, phone, or handwritten cards. When you send a card, add a coupon or a discount for your business service inside. If it’s a referral to a major contact, send a special gift of thanks. Value your networking contacts and treat them appropriately. Don’t drop a potential business associate because the timing is off. Next year may be a better time to do business. Make room for new contacts, as your network constantly changes and grows. Regularly refer to your networking files to keep your contacts in the networking loop, and stay in touch even if you don’t need anything.
- Build Your Business Relationships Slowly. Networking is a give-and-take business relationship that is built over time. It’s not a sales plan, even though it generally leads to higher profits. When business associates help you, you in turn, help them. It’s a win-win connection. Build in more time at the beginning or end of your day to strengthen your business relationships. Also, select the most opportune events and industry conferences that are most apt to bring you helpful contacts. Find out who will be at each one. Then decide whether to invest your time and money to be there.
- Volunteer. Always be ready to volunteer and offer service. Volunteering helps to build your reputation as a woman who is passionate about her business. For example, volunteer for advisory boards. Be seen and get yourself out in the public eye. After all, if you want to win the business game, you have to be active on the playing field.
- Find a Business Coach or Mentor. As an extra leg-up, develop an ongoing relationship with a business mentor or coach. This is essential for women in business, especially home-based businesses. It gives you someone with whom to talk and ask questions. Get to know businesswomen and men who inspire you to success. Doing so can help bring you more business as well as advice and information when you need it.
- Network on the Internet. Build a Web site and get listed on the major search engines. Use testimonials on your site and marketing materials. Become a blogger in your industry or trade. Join Internet networking groups such as LinkedIn and list your accomplishments, education, and successful programs. These sites can provide valuable referrals and information.
Business success comes directly from cultivating your network of contacts. This means it’s essential that you keep networking, as each person you network with can potentially enrich your life.