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Business Observer Monday, Aug. 3, 2015 6 years ago

Ten ways to get the most out of business networking

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Networking can be fun and fruitful — just make sure you're taking the right approach to do it effectively.
by: Cheryl O’Neill Staff Writer

Business networking is when a group of like-minded business people gather and help each other. If you check, you will surely find a networking group in your area. The networking group can meet as often as it wishes and is convenient for the participants.

Networking can be a lot of fun, but, regrettably, most people start a networking group by looking for immediate gains...that is, for favorable results for themselves. If this is what you are trying to achieve, you are networking for the wrong reasons and will be sticking out like a sore thumb.

Many people think that the size of a networking group makes the difference in networking. When groups start falling in size, members will say “we have to build up our numbers.” Now, what numbers are they referring to? Is it the number of participants? I would rather belong to a networking group of two people who can help each other on a regular basis than have a large group of business people not networking properly. It is not the quantity, it is the quality.

Some say “I haven't got any leads yet!” Well, have you given one, ever? Or, have you made a suggestion that might help a fellow member? Did you call anyone with a compliment or connect them to other networking groups that might be of benefit to them?

Networking groups will come and go. To get the most out of your networking experience, you need to build a relationship with people who you want to have contact with. Not all members will be able to help you, nor will you be able to help them. That doesn't mean you should snub them. I still have strong relationships with my networking friends from groups that are long gone or I am no longer a part of.

While networking, spend most of your time and effort on people who can help each other out, for the long term. That is right. This is a long-term project. Countless times I have been to business networking events and have seen people actually run from person to person, with the expectations of first giving away their card and hoping to gather the other person's. How can you possibly build a relationship with a person when your objection is to get out there and collect cards? Some networking groups make a game out of it to see who can collect the most in a certain time. What a waste of business cards!

You will find that a highly effective networker will “work the net.” What I mean is that they will go into a function with a goal in mind. My usual goal when business networking is to have the expectation that I will “meet” and “understand” only three people per event. I know what kind of person that I can help and expect that this person will be able to do the same for me. A win/win situation is what I am talking about. The highly effective networker will take the time to cultivate a rapport.

After the business networking event is when the real work begins. After all, you are only at the networking event to meet and build rapport. Follow up ASAP. Now is the time to send a nice customized note, and call within a few days after to arrange a time to meet for coffee or to have lunch. That is when you can listen to the details of what your new “friend” requires. You might even have the chance to offer your goods and services, only after listening.

If you want to gain the most out of business networking, follow these top 10 must do's:

1.) Drop the “what is in it for me?” attitude.
2.) Listen.
3.) Build a relationship.
4.) Give the first referral.
5.) Do not tell others of the referral you require — instead “show them” with a story.
6.) Be specific with the type of referral.
7.) Reciprocate when appropriate.
8.) Participate in the network functions and networking time.
9.) Thank the person who gave you the referral.
10.) Follow up on the referral within 24 hours.

Business networking is productive and fun, and that is why it will always be part of the bigger picture.

Cheryl O'Neill Gowen is president and CEO of Alternative Funding Options. She works with business owners seeking cash flow from non-traditional sources, drawing on more than 30 years' experience in banking, financing and staffing. Contact her at:{encode="[email protected]" title="[email protected]"}.

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