Business development is the process of identifying, attracting and acquiring new customers or clients for your business. It involves creating and maintaining relationships with potential and existing customers, partners, investors and other stakeholders.
Networking is one of the most important skills for business development professionals. Networking is the act of building and maintaining professional relationships with people who can help you achieve your goals. Networking can help you generate leads, referrals, partnerships, joint ventures, collaborations, insights, feedback and more.
But how do you network effectively? Here are some tips to help you build your network in business development.
- Define your networking goals and strategy
- Be proactive and consistent
- Offer assistance and value
- Cultivate personal contacts online and offline
- Follow up and stay in touch with your contacts
Let’s dive into each step in detail.
1. Define your networking goals and strategy
Before you start networking, you need to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and how you plan to achieve it. What are your business development goals? Who are your target customers or clients? Who are the key influencers or decision-makers in your industry or niche? What are the best ways to reach them?
Having a networking strategy for business will help you focus your efforts and avoid wasting time on irrelevant or unproductive contacts. You can use tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Alerts, industry newsletters, blogs and podcasts to research and identify potential contacts and opportunities.
Some of the networking goals you can set for yourself are:
- To generate a certain number of leads or referrals per month
- To establish a certain number of partnerships or joint ventures per year
- To expand your network by a certain percentage or number of contacts per quarter
- To increase your visibility and reputation in your industry or niche
- To learn new skills or insights from experts or mentors
2. Be proactive and consistent
Networking is not a one-time event or a passive activity. It requires regular and consistent effort to build and maintain relationships. You need to be proactive in reaching out to new contacts, following up with existing ones, providing value, asking for referrals and staying in touch.
You can use various channels and platforms to network, such as online networking communities, social media sites, email newsletters, webinars, podcasts, blogs, events, conferences, trade shows and more. However, before you jump into any channel or platform, you need to fully understand the medium, how it works and how you can use it to benefit your business.
Some of the best practices for networking proactively and consistently are:
- Set aside a specific time each day or week to network
- Use a CRM software or a spreadsheet to keep track of your contacts and interactions
- Follow up within 24 hours after meeting someone new or receiving a referral
- Provide value before asking for anything in return
- Ask open-ended questions and listen actively
- Be authentic and genuine
- Be respectful and courteous
3. Offer assistance and value
Networking is not about selling yourself or your products or services. It is about building trust and rapport with your contacts. One of the best ways to do that is to offer assistance and value to them. You can do that by sharing useful information, insights, resources, tips, advice, feedback or introductions that can help them solve their problems or achieve their goals.
By offering assistance and value, you demonstrate your expertise, credibility and generosity. You also create goodwill and reciprocity, which can lead to more opportunities and referrals in the future.
Some of the ways you can offer assistance and value are:
- Share relevant articles, podcasts, videos or webinars that can help them learn something new or solve a problem
- Introduce them to someone who can help them with their needs or goals
- Give them honest feedback or suggestions on their work or projects
- Endorse them on LinkedIn or write them a testimonial
- Congratulate them on their achievements or milestones
- Send them a gift card or a discount coupon for your products or services
4. Cultivate personal contacts online and offline
While online networking is convenient and efficient, it cannot replace the human connection that comes from meeting people face-to-face. Therefore, you should also cultivate personal contacts offline by attending events hosted by organizations related to your field or niche.
You can also host your own events or workshops to showcase your expertise and attract potential customers or clients. When attending or hosting events, make sure to prepare an elevator pitch that summarizes who you are, what you do and how you can help others. You should also have a professional business card that includes your contact details and social media handles.
Some of the benefits of face-to-face networking are:
- It allows you to read someone’s body language and emotions
- It enables more complex strategic thinking and problem-solving
- It builds stronger and deeper relationships
- It increases your visibility and reputation
- It generates more leads and referrals
5. Follow up and stay in touch
The most important part of networking is following up and staying in touch with your contacts. You should follow up within 24 hours after meeting someone new or receiving a referral. You can send a thank-you email or message expressing your appreciation and interest in continuing the conversation.
You should also stay in touch with your contacts regularly by sending them updates, news, articles, invitations or greetings that are relevant and valuable to them. You can use tools like CRM software or email marketing software to automate and personalize your follow-up and communication.
Some of the tips for following up and staying in touch are:
- Use their name and mention something specific from your previous interaction
- Remind them of the value you can offer or the problem you can solve
- Ask them for their feedback, opinion or advice on something related to their interests or goals
- Invite them to join your online community, newsletter, webinar or podcast
- Send them a birthday, anniversary or holiday card
- Ask them for a referral, testimonial or endorsement if appropriate
Networking is a vital skill for business development professionals. It can help you grow your business by generating leads, referrals, partnerships, joint ventures and more. However, networking requires planning, effort and patience. You need to define your goals and strategy, be proactive and consistent, offer assistance and value, cultivate personal contacts online and offline and follow up and stay in touch with your contacts.
By following these steps, you can build a strong network that will support your business development goals. Remember, networking is not about quantity but quality. Focus on building meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with people who can help you achieve your goals and vice versa. Happy networking!