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Networking supports your business and marketing plans by helping you to find clients, suppliers, and advocates for your goals.
The best networks are natural, built of people who you know, like, trust, and support, and who equally like, and trust, and who are supportive of you. They're a community from which you can draw any of the important human elements of a business.
Employees, business suppliers, community leaders, colleagues, politicians, and journalists are all critical partners in the establishment and growth of your business, and all are best provided within a community that can help to assure you of their worthiness.
Given how important referrals are, in a perfect world, your life provides you with all that you need in this area. In the real world however, most of us are strong in one area, knowing a lot of people in our own profession and maybe one or two others, and our immediate family and old friends. In a situation like that, you sometimes have to supplement your natural relationships with those that are purpose built for business.
For this, there are many clubs, social media channels, educational organizations, and professional groups that can help fill the gap. Rotaries, Chambers of Commerce, Business Improvement Areas, Trade Shows, LinkedIn groups, and other organizations can all be useful components of your networking strategy.
While it is one of those essential business activities that can and should be enjoyable, it's important to remember that what makes networking worthwhile is the effectiveness of the relationships it generates.
Who do you want or need to meet? Customers are important, but suppliers, colleagues, politicians, community leaders, and journalists also play valuable roles in the long-term success of your business.
The best networks are built on mutual benefit. Can you help this person with their business, or can they help you with yours? If so, how? It's not enough to meet people, you develop the relationships through shared experiences, mutual favours, and regular contact.
Secondly, they are built on trust. If you can help a person with a referral to a colleague or friend, are they going to represent you well? Conversely, if you need a referral or lead, how can you generate their trust in you to connect you to their own friends and colleagues?
This is an important consideration. You should always take measures to safeguard your network as you are building it by promoting people who have earned trust. Pay attention to what people say and then what they subsequently do. Award your highest levels of trust to those that best integrate those two activities and who share your values.
It's not about knowing or meeting the largest number people possible, one can be very sparing in contacts, and wield great power, or have many and hold none. Effective networking is where you have a common objective and provide mutual opportunity, leading to solutions you would otherwise have had difficulty achieving.
You'll really know how valuable your network is when the unforeseen occurs and you have an urgent need for a guaranteed resource. For a small business owners or self-employed person, being a trusted element in a good business community is the next best thing to a large dedicated staff.
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