To build a worthwhile book of connections, start by establishing your business goals and exploring interesting ways to achieve them.
Ask some fulfilled entrepreneurs how they reached their goals: For every leader who tells you about a well-developed business plan and shaking hands at networking events, there’s also going to be someone who simply stumbled on a great connection–a partnership or a new sales channel, for example, while doing what they loved.
Whether they are skiing, doing volunteer work, or taking a yoga class, many business leaders nurture extracurricular connections to achieve professional success.
To get started on your own unique path, start by setting networking goals. Then open yourself up to different ways of achieving them.
It’s not always about a new client.
When you know what’s inspiring your urge to network, it’s easier to make a plan. Besides meeting new business prospects, networking goals can include:
- Recruiting new talent. You may be having trouble finding entry- or mid-level applicants via your existing contacts. Or maybe the local community lacks an abundance of talent in your field
- Forging short-or long-term partnerships in and out of your industry
- Solving shared challenges. Are rising commercial rents killing your profits? Start a group to address this issue
- Building brand awareness. If you’re new to the community and you’ve started, say, the first long-distance pet taxi service, you’ll need to cultivate demand by educating the public about your value proposition
Develop your networking channels.
After you’ve established your desired networking takeaway, decide on at least two ways to realize these goals:
Become involved in your community. Join a civic group, running club or another affinity-based organization–and seek leadership roles to increase your visibility. You’ll have the opportunity to engage with like-minded professionals who share your passion.
Take the virtual path. You’ve posted a lot of vacation pics on your Facebook timeline. But now try going deeper. Many of LinkedIn’s moderated professional groups, for example, are a cross between a trade-show panel and a networking party. Though most forbid shameless self-promotion, you can take part in their themed conversations, showcase your knowledge and develop an organic following. Similarly, the Meetup.com hub facilitates in-person connections with others sharing your personal or professional interest.
Create your own thunder.
If you’ve been frustrated by your networking options, grab the reins and create an event of your own, such as:
- A themed lunch or dinner. Invite a small group from different, yet complementary fields to discuss a substantial business topic of concern to them, such as “Competing with offshore outsourcing,” or “Who will robots replace?”
- An activity-based social event that encourages conversation and active participation, such as a cooking lesson, wine or whisky tasting, or even a miniature-golf outing. You’ll tear down barriers and take the focus off business, while fostering great connections
- A local networking group with an active angle. Don’t let them just stand there–use your imagination. Perhaps members volunteer to create a non-promotional presentation about their field of work or take part in a mini Apprentice-like competition
Don’t ignore your own “kitchen cabinet.”
Some of the most beneficial networking contacts are people you know best: Your lawyer, your accountant, your business banking relationship manager. Their deep relationships with your business mean they can make well-informed and meaningful introductions.
Mix it up–and keep it up.
You’d never stop at one new business lead, so don’t pursue just one networking alternative. And don’t let those irons go cold. Be a regular at the party–figuratively and literally. Let everyone know you’re committed, passionate and serious about your work.
Making better business connections starts with the ones you already have. Visit a branch or contact your M&T Business Banking relationship manager at 1-800-724-6070 to share your latest successes and challenges.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not designed or intended to provide financial, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice since such advice always requires consideration of individual circumstances. Please consult with the professionals of your choice to discuss your situation.