Networking is a cost-effective method for expanding any business. A social network is a system of resources, such as information and services, that are shared among individuals or groups having a common interest. Business networking, as the term implies, is the application of social networking principles to benefit a business. Because no business is an island; the primary goal of networking is to develop mutually beneficial business relationships. Once established, these lasting relationships can provide an invaluable reservoir of information, ideas and support that will help you develop and improve your company.
The most obvious benefit of business networking is that it can generate new leads and prospective clients. However, it is important to remember that networking and direct sales are two different things; the goal of networking is not to pitch a product or service to potential consumers, but to develop relationships. Always keep this broader goal of business networking in mind as you follow up on networking opportunities. Be selective, and focus primarily on those forms of networking that foster mutually beneficial relationships.
Selective networking is especially important in the digital age, now that popular new forms of networking such as blogs, websites, listservs and virtual communities provide an abundance of potential business contacts, it has become easier to connect with your network. You may be asking yourself, how can an entrepreneur/ independent business professional capitalize on these new networking opportunities and cultivate mutually beneficial relationships? As a starting point, remember that networking is about quality of communication, not quantity of contacts. A large percentage of business owners feel that, even in the digital age, relationship building must have a face-to-face component; it can be difficult to form quality relationships via cyberspace. Therefore, it is important to supplement online networking with more traditional, face-to-face forms of networking such as conferences, business trips, social events and survey or focus groups. For example, you might arrange to follow-up on line contacts with face-to-face meetings at business events. As with anything, diversification is key; the Internet should serve as one resource among many, not as your only networking strategy.
Clearly, networking involves much more than just a firm handshake and elegantly designed business cards. Networking is about cultivating “social capital”, the invaluable support for business that comes from social relationships. While introducing yourself to other business professionals and striking up a conversation costs nothing, the rewards that come from lasting, mutually beneficial business relationships are priceless.
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