By Deborah Dixon.
One of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs is getting started in their industry and community. The most often used word in this case is “networking,” and established business owners seem to swear by it. But what is networking and are there any best practices for it?
Traditionally, networking is a method of building contacts by exchanging information, usually in person but also through emails or cold calling. The conventional approach has been more on the professional side, strictly business relationships. But this approach has become cliché in many cases, with some experts advocating for a more personalized approach.
The first point, however, is to be prepared. Whether you take a more professional or personal route, you should have a few contact options, and the best way to present them is on a business card. This gives others a convenient way to keep track of your information.
What is on the business card is just as important. Always list the best mode of contact for you, but also include other options that also work. These can include a phone number, email address, and social media – but keep in mind that your contacts will look at any social media you list. The email address is equally important; many professionals differentiate between email addresses hosted by major providers such as Gmail or Yahoo and prefer addresses at specific domains. This shows effort in establishing a domain for your business, especially considering how easy and cost-efficient it can be to set up a professional email and even a website.
The business card should be functional above all else. While it is an opportunity to express your company’s identity and culture, and your logo if you have one, don’t sacrifice style for information or readability!
With networking, it is becoming more important to connect with others not only on a business level but on a personal one. Very few people take well to being treated as only a business resource, which is why the term networking has become anathema in some circles. Cold calling and emailing are difficult to get right, especially for those potential contacts who receive waves of similar emails every day. Engaging with others at entrepreneurial events or industry meetings, which also offers a wider audience and ensures that you will reach the right person. Remember to treat them as a person as you talk, and know what you are talking about – you are making an impression, and industry knowledge is always a strong start.
After the networking event, once you’ve collected contact information, use it! Don’t wait too long to get in touch. It is better to look too eager than to let that impression fade. Thank them for the opportunity to chat, but remember to still approach them as human beings, not merely points of contact. Use whichever mode of contact they prefer, even if you are accustomed to using something else. From there, let the relationship develop naturally – there should be regular, mutual contact and you should feel comfortable asking for advice.
Also be open to others networking with you. Even if you are a new business owner, you likely have information and insight into your industry, and certainly a unique perspective.