Business Networking 101: How to Make the Best of this Developmental Tool
Maria Zain lists why and how effective networking can benefit your business.
Through networking, business owners find they can exceed their expectations beyond their initial business blueprint. They gain business visibility in their sector and in new markets. Entrepreneurs who network achieve cost effectiveness faster than those who do not network. These entrepreneurs are also able to innovate products and services to help keep up with their clients' demands and expectations. Also, they are able to service and satisfy target markets. Ultimately, entrepreneurs are looking to maximise their profitability and networking is the best way to achieve that goal.
How to Start Networking
Always set goals before you begin networking. Whether you have just registered for a business seminar or are meeting old friends from school for business talk – remember to set specific objectives for each meeting so you are not caught unprepared when asked about your business ideals. Are you planning to increase your marketing capacity? Are you looking for new talents? Are you building a downline for your business? Determine exactly what you want to achieve in this meeting to avoid handing out business cards blindly.
Next, practice the introduction to your proposal. Keep it within a short and confident paragraph lasting up to 60 seconds and make sure it entices your potential working partner. Remember that your networking colleague has to benefit from your proposal, so put his or her interests forward without creating a sales pitch (of your product or service). Talk about mutual benefits and a long term relationship.
Lastly, prepare your networking kit. Updated business cards are essential for your effective networking. Additionally, you may find ways to creatively broach your business idea by creating a simple brochure or a concise printed presentation using PowerPoint. Again, focus on your networking partner's needs and a prospective long-term relationship. While preparing this article of your kit, keep a keen drive to achieving your goal (to keep yourself on track).
Use Different Networking Circles to Achieve Your Goals
Firstly, you want to network with those who are successful in the business world – mostly those who have persevered through adversities and can motivate you to do the same. Positive affirmations can do wonders for your success. These consultants share your business interests and fall under the same sector. To find networking circles that will enhance your goals, check out websites such as Everywoman.com to search for networks in your industry.
Secondly, horizontal networking is equally important. Horizontal networking relates to working with substitute product companies (such as competitors) and complementary product companies. With competitors, you may find that banding together will allow greater visibility in new markets by increasing your capital requirements to compete as "a team".
Complementary product companies will help you achieve higher economies of sales and tap into new innovative markets be offering improved products and services. For example, if you are a fashion designer for abayas and jilbabs, seek out sister entrepreneurs who specialise in hijab designs.
Thirdly, learn about vertical networking as this will reduce costs and increase product effectiveness and visibility if executed correctly. Vertical networking denotes working with suppliers and / or vendors of your products. Creating smart-partnerships can ultimately boost your profits. For example, if you design and market wedding cards, you will save money if you create a close working relationship with a printing company. Also, by networking with wedding planners, you would be able to reduce your marketing cost as these wedding planners would automatically promote your card designs.
Fourth, consider different sector networking. Entrepreneurs are often prone to networking within the same industry and find that they tire from competing with competitors. Creating a network with a different sector will allow entrepreneurs to tap into new opportunities. A fine example is The Body Shop. Instead of competing within the chemical-based cosmetic sector, they researched the viability of a natural-ingredient based beauty product provider. For years, "old" competitors suffered because they were unable to make drastic changes to their business models in order to imitate The Body Shop's au naturelle outlook on beauty.
Fifth, different target market networking is often ignored. Imagine many people who come from all sorts of life scattered on a blank piece of paper. Draw a circle in the middle and group your target market – your consumers whom you cater to. Then, just outside of the circle, arrange the next likely group of people who would be interested in your product but for some reason "vote against" procuring your services. Who are they? Where are they from? Most importantly, what is causing their reluctance to purchase you product? Get down to their grass root levels and get to know this new target market – you may just find a window to create a new product or service based on the ones you already have.
Non-mirror networking is the most ignored networking circle. Let's say you are a 35 year old Caucasian Muslim mother of four. How often do you network with other entrepreneurs who do not share your description? Have you chatted with singles lately? Do you often consult teenagers or pensioners about their demands and expectations of your products and services? Do you "talk business" after your Qur'an reading classes with Muslimahs of other cultures? How many non-Muslim female entrepreneurs have you worked with? There are so many opportunities from different social spectrums – take time to set up new goals for your business that stretches your potential.
Remember that your networking
colleague has to benefit from the proposal, so put his or her interest
forward without creating a sales pitch
Last Impressions are New Beginnings
Lastly, always remember to follow-up with your initial networking meetings. We live in a busy world so imagine how many opportunities slip past when prospective network candidates forget about your business proposal! Follow-up with a friendly phone call that reignites potential business interest; a formal email that encompasses future plans together; even a Thank You card for the initial rendezvous. With a strong last impression, you have already paved your way to creating new business opportunities just by initiating and solidifying a potential business network.
This article was first published in SISTERS, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women. Visit the SISTERS website at www.sisters-magazine.com to read more articles - and download a complimentary issue!