2 September 2011

Networking for Business


A few weeks ago I was networking with a couple of entrepreneurs when we decided to answer the question “What is your most important professional frustration ?”. I didn’t need much time to think about it and my answer can probably be translated to any expertise, industry or occupation.

Since 2004 I’m spending at least 5 hours each day, every day of the week, networking and using Social Media. During these years I have attended many networking events all over Europe but also spend a lot of time exploring websites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Xing and many others.

From my personal and practical experience I have distilled valuable tips and advice for entrepreneurs. Always with a razor-sharp focus toward small business owners, but also applicable for management teams in larger companies. Networking events and Social Media are accessible for everyone and the huge load of social networking tools can be used in many ways to grow your contacts network, build credibility as a professional in your industry or use it for social media marketing.

So what was my most important professional frustration ? Every dog in a jacket calls himself a Social Media Expert and jumps on stage all over the country to speak to an audience, trading their knowledge for a bottle of wine and a sandwich. I have seen speakers who handled topics like fiscal tips, investments and Social Media in less than 6 months. They jump on every hot topic and talk about any subject that’s demanded.

I often hear negative comments when I meet people who have attended a presentation or workshop on my favorite topic. In most cases this is caused by a lack of practical experience from the speaker.
I don’t mean the technical experience, but the right mindset you need the audience to understand.

It’s very important to really transfer the right mindset you need while networking and using Social Media, to be able to receive a positive return for your business. When an entrepreneur or business owners is using social media for business, he or she is actually networking while using social media as an instrument.

Until the breakthrough of Facebook there were only 5 speakers in Belgium who handled these topics, while being heavy users of social networking themselves. Today these pioneers are still active as speakers, trainers and coaches, but their names start to fade away in the large list of available speakers.

I am very grateful that I was part of this group of pioneers and during the past decennium I was able to study the evolution and growth of social networks. A growth in speakers on this topic could be a good thing, if they challenge themselves to deliver high quality. We would love to see many more qualified speakers who put lots of work and effort in researching their topics. It hurts to see that Social Media has grown into a ‘quick win’ for many others.

Now what does networking really mean to me ? What is the most rewarding way to network ?
What should be avoided ?

During the past decade I have heard and read many definitions and statements on networking, something that I won’t do right now. I do however want to try and make clear what it’s all about. Some time ago I heard a brilliant lady say “The value of your networking efforts can be measured by how much people talk about you when you are not there”. It isn’t enough to meet and get to know many more (business) people and grow your network, you also have to make sure they remember you when an opportunity comes by!

I consider a person to be part of my network when I know who he or she is and what he or she does for a living. Of course this also has to be true the other way around. Only if this is true we can also refer people to each other successfully and that’s what networking is all about : Helping each other !

Helping each other is something you can do by referring someone to the right person to help with his or her demand, question or problem. Helping each other can also be done by giving some advice or a good tip to set them off in the right direction toward a solution. Many times you will be contacted by someone in your network to get them in contact with someone very specific from your network. You can open a door to enable them to contact someone much more easy. Some Social Networking tools like LinkedIn and Branchout have specific tools onboard to make this easier.

Social Media are no substitute for offline meetings. By meeting each other face to face and exchanging stories while enjoying a cup of coffee or a glass of wine you will create an extra level in your connection which will make it easier to remember each other when needed.

An important issue is the ‘Elevator pitch’ in which you have to be able to present yourself in just a couple of minutes. Most entrepreneurs will keep it short and tell you who they are and what activities they handle in their business. It’s often more valuable to tell people what you are looking for and how they would be able to help you. In some businessclubs (e.g. M4M) moderators will help you to make sure you have a positive networking experience.

My golden networking tip never changed since 2004 : “Don’t sell !”. Networking is building a network, selling is something completely different. Sales can be a logical result of your networking efforts, but networking and selling are really two completely different activities.

I wish you a lot of success with your networking efforts in this new season !

1 comment:

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