By Paul Peng
Those of you who have a business or are considering starting a business have all heard it. Networking is a critical component in the determination of business success. It increases your chances of making a sale or a series of sales. It expands your brand organically through word-of-mouth advertising. It also allows for collaborative and partnership opportunities.
Most importantly, it allows you to cultivate genuine professional and/or personal relationships that will last years to come. So, what does all this mean? How can you realize the vast benefits of networking in your entrepreneurial journey?
Finding the Right Network
While building relationships and talking with people is always good for you and your brand, going to the correct type of event is crucial. For instance, if your business is pet grooming, you will not get very many clients at a firearms expo versus a pet or veterinarian expo, no matter how charismatic or charming you may be. Research online and look for suitable networking events to maximize your return.
Cultivating and embracing the power of social media, particularly LinkedIn, is helpful. Why LinkedIn? It is the social network for business professionals. This is where many of the decision-makers of large corporations and small business owners are, enabling you to bypass gatekeepers and go straight to the source. Through this method, our company, Sentri Institute Inc., formed a partnership with OTIS Defense, the largest supplier of weapons cleaning kits to the United States armed forces.
I have also found that joining your local chamber of commerce is a good starting point in building a network. Many of your local chamber of commerce members are already entrenched businesses that have been around for decades and understand the politics and inner workings of the local economy, which is invaluable in helping you avoid pitfalls in your own business, especially if you are just starting off.
The Art of Listening and Building Partnerships
Think about every time you have a conversation and how many times you formulate a response based on the first two sentences as opposed to the whole speech. What about the last time you started talking before the other person finished? A study conducted by Wright State University, Ohio, found that the average person only listens about 25% of the time instead of the ideal duration of around 45%.
As a business owner, you must learn to listen more than speak. Instead of talking about what you do, make the conversation about the other person and truly listen. They could give you valuable insight into what they do, allowing you to identify a “win-win” situation for a transaction or a mutually-beneficial partnership or collaborative opportunity. People generally like to deal with people that are humble and likable, and business dealings typically happen when they are comfortable and they feel like they can trust you.
Once you have established your first few meaningful relationships or partnerships, nurture them. You will often find that strong professional connections are more likely to help by providing warm introductions to relevant people in their networks, allowing for easier new relationships. Each of these new connections—assuming you made an impression by practicing the art of listening—has its own networks and events that you can be invited to, increasing your network even more.