Recently, Justin, a friend of mine, asked me to accompany him to a business meeting. For months, I had known that he was a member of the Curio Exporters Association; A group consisting members who deal in curios - buying, selling or exporting. Surprisingly, all the days I had interacted with Justin, I had never got a chance to meet any member of the association; This feeling was thrilling to me. I believed I could get a deal or two from them despite I have interests in different fields; Fruits and vegetables. These interests do not arise from my involvements but those of my very close friend who is planning on exporting fruits and vegetables. Justin had very little to talk about the group due to his inactive membership despite the fact that he paid his fees timely but never created time to participate. But all this was about to change. He made many curios and sold them locally with most going to local travelers.
I knew he was missing out by not participating in the activities of his group but I did not know how to advise him well without full information on the activities of his association. Everyone was punctual to the meeting and members got to share their experiences to the forum. Majorities of them had prospered while others where about to make it big and break into success. While some members were working in groups to source for markets, the association was establishing huge links with others businesses in different areas and regions to connect to their members. Business to business (B2B) connections were working specifically for those members who had adopted the idea. Products where being modified and improved to meet varying and quickly changing market needs, members were organizing themselves and traveling to view and feel various target markets. All this was possible, as it later emerged, due to members' devotion to the association and their active participation. Wherever members participated, they got a chance to learn and or explore new ideas and opportunities.
They were actually exploiting business networking completely despite they did not know it was such. I learnt a lot and associated ideas on how to source foreign markets and the requirements of entering them. I even got someone who was ready to guide me on the initial process of penetration. Later I shared my knowledge on business networking with Justin, believing pretty well that he needed the information for his success and that of his business. Business networking is dynamic and the experience of one person on a given idea may not necessarily be replicated by another person or may not bring out the same effect when applied in a different scenario. Very many factors apply in business networking. Some businesses succeed with very little efforts from their owners or managers while others require a lot of efforts to succeed.
Most of the time, a business set up in an expanding market will usually expand with the market even with little efforts while that set up in a mature market will require efforts to be kept profitable and growing. Ventures set up in a declining market will not only require a lot of efforts but also resources to remain in operation, let alone remaining profitable. Although it is always wise to carry out market research, the research techniques applied may not be exhaustive because key areas may be left out. Strong business networking skills come in handy especially when one does not have adequate time to carryout extensive research. Although many people will come up with diverse definitions of business networking, it can easily be described as the linking together individuals (entities) who, through conviction and relationship building become both walking and talking advertisements for one another. The networks help to inform one party of another and vice-versa. There are several forms of links but focus should be on those that are useful and beneficial to business ventures.
To succeed in business networking, a business owner or manager should do one or a number of the following.
- Become famous as a dominant resource for others. Dominance will keep you visible. Once you are blamed as a sturdy resource, many people will consider turning to you for assistance, suggestions, ideas, and any other form of help. As they share with you what they are going through, you will easily pick up issues that can be developed and advanced for the benefit of your business venture.
- Offer to hold volunteer positions in groups and organizations. It is a great way to remain visible and give back to groups that have helped you or those that lack resourceful people. Once you become associated with an organization, your tasks and venture will become harmonious with the organization and all efforts put in the organization's work will reflect on your business. All positive attributes will help people admire you and your endeavors and then benefit your investment.
- Possess a clear understanding of what you do and why, for what, and what makes your doing it special or different from others doing the same thing. In order to get referrals, you must first have a clear understanding of what you do so that you can easily articulate to others. Always be alert and hone your abilities as to the areas that you can help people in especially if and when they are referred to you.
- Always remember that networking should be genuine and authentic, building trust and relationships, and extending help to others. Growing a big list of people and contacts is not of any value to you or your business. The contacts should be of people you are ready to work with and not to use for show-offs.
- Ask open-ended questions in networking conversations. This means that questions with a simple yes or no answer are avoided. This form of questioning opens up the discussion and shows listeners that you are interested in them and helps you gather more information as the people you are engaged with explain their ideas and involvements.
- Understanding your goals and objectives in participating in 'network' meetings so that you can pick groups that will help you get what you are looking for. Some meetings are based more on learning, making contacts, and or volunteering rather than making business connections. As a business person, you should endeavor to look for what will give your business leverage.
- Visit as many groups as possible that spark your interest and notice their tone and attitude. Many groups will allow you to visit a number of times before joining. In as much as you may feel obliged to belong somewhere, you should evaluate all the benefits and disadvantages of belonging to a particular group so that you join that (that) that make a positive impact to your business growth.
- Be able to articulate what you are looking for and how others may help you so that if asked to be assisted you can know how to. It shows focus.
- Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals that you are given. When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them. Also ensure to follow-up on the referrals that you give.
- Call the people you meet who may benefit from what you do, or from you you can benefit and express that you enjoyed meeting them. Ask if you could get together and further share ideas.
While business networking is a key tool for growing and expanding ones business, it is not the only one since care should be taken to carefully blend it with other business ideas and functions. An entrepreneurs mind should always be open to explore and absorb the business environment to ensure current practices are applied to the business. With a desire for excellence, every person or entity is useful to a business person as long as their usefulness is carefully tapped.