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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 10, 2017 3 years ago

How to ... Network effectively

Whether it comes easily to you or makes you break out into a cold sweat, networking is vital to growing your business.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

Whether it comes easily to you or makes you break out into a cold sweat, networking is vital to growing your business.

Are you doing it right and getting the results you should?

One key is to practice, practice. “The best thing you can do is get out and meet new people,” says Mark Stough, co-executive director of BNI Southwest Florida, a networking group with local chapters stretching from Lakeland to Naples. He recommends getting involved with a number of organizations such as chambers of commerce and Kiwanis.

It's especially important if your company is in its early days. “When you're first getting started with your business you have to go to every single thing you can,” says Amber Phillips, vice president of the Women's Network of Collier County and owner of Sage Events, Sage Kitchen and Sand Dollar Weddings in Naples. “That helps you figure out where you can find the most people who can impact your business.”

Before an event, set goals as to what you hope to accomplish. If you're not a natural networker, roundtables or events that incorporate icebreakers can be useful. “It's hard to come out of your shell, but you're not going to grow your business until you do,” says Phillips.

Having a networking buddy can also be helpful for folks who are shy. “Go as a team with someone more extroverted than you are,” says Stough. Then you can talk each other up instead of just trying to talk about yourself.

It's also important to know when to shut up. “One of the biggest things I find is that people don't listen; they just talk about themselves,” says Phillips. “To me, one of the ways to be effective is to ask the person you're speaking with about them instead of just talking about what you do.”

Instead of sticking your business card in everyone's face, Phillips recommends only handing it out when asked. And put any cards you collect to good use.

Stough uses the backs of business cards to jot notes about the conversations he had. “If someone tells me they're from Chicago or have three kids, I like to write those things down,” he says. “It makes it easier to remember the connections.”

And don't just stuff those cards into a desk drawer. “The most important thing you can do is reach out after you've met someone and send them a nice email,” says Stough. “If you can get lunch or a cup of coffee with them, it will take the relationship a little further and you're going to do a lot better.”

—Beth Luberecki

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