“Networking is the No. 1 unwritten rule of success in business.” Sallie Krawcheck
Building a network is the building block of any business. The first thing people tell you as you get into business is to grow your network and join a networking group. However, developing a network is not an easy thing. It is not just about attending networking events and shaking hands with everyone. A network is built only by adding value to the people you meet and deal with daily. Like any relationship, business networking is something that needs commitment and dedication to thrive.
Three types of networking
There are three distinct types of networking that you should be considering before you start planning your networking journey, operational, leadership, and strategic networking.
Operational networking is about connecting with the right people that will help you enhance and manage your internal processes to enable your business to grow. Leadership networking is about connecting with the right people to motivate and empower you to be the best leader for your business. Finally, strategic networking is about connecting and building solid win-win relationships with the key decision-makers in your industry or related field that will open new doors for your business and reveal uncapped opportunities. Like anything in business, networking needs planning, goal setting, and implementation to succeed.
What type of network do you need to grow your business?
The type of network you need for your business should align with your overall business strategy. If your organisation is looking at growing capacity or diversifying its product offering, then an operational networking strategy is what the business should be focusing. The purpose of increasing your operation network is predominantly to improve efficiencies and maintain your business’s capacities. Developing a strong network of affiliates, suppliers, and other stakeholders that will strengthen your product offering is the way to go. You will find the most appropriate contacts in your current industry or adjacent industries. For example, suppose you are offering a healthcare service? In that case, your operation network will be doctors, GPs, medical specialists, nurses, pharmacists, and health care practitioners who can add value to your current offer and complement what you do for your clients. This operation network can also evolve into a collaborative referral network if managed strategically and generate leads for your business.
If your business focuses on driving sales and increasing your client base, you should be looking at strategic networking. The purpose of strategic networking is to grow your share of voice and mind in a specific segment where there is potential growth for your business. Strategic networking aims to mingle with business leaders and influencers with diverse affiliations, expertise, and business development opportunities. Ultimately, strategic networking will lead to capitalising on uncapped business opportunities to drive your business forward. It is about finding business partners where there is synergy for exponential growth. A courier company, for instance, could find synergy with a retail store chain by offering their services and fleet to them instead of investing in resources themselves.
Strategic networks get developed by thinking of win-win business solutions and asking yourself as a business owner who can benefit from what I have to offer. Looking for a pragmatic solution to various industry operation problems is how this disruptive partnership occurs, which is one of the main reasons business owners need to connect with a wide range of industry and leaders. The more you connect with people from diverse backgrounds, the more collaborative ideas and opportunities will emerge.
Business leaders often turn to networks to develop their leadership skills; therefore, leadership networking would suit them. We are the average of the five people we spend most with, said the famous motivational speaker Jim Rohn; it is the law of averages. The more you surround yourself with wiser, smarter, and more successful people, the more you will elevate your thinking as a leader. Leadership networking means finding seminars and inspirational leaders that resonate with your future vision. Often when you attend those seminars and events, you will meet and interact with other leaders who gravitate to a similar goal and purpose in their personal life and career. This purpose-driven leadership networking enables business leaders to create lasting and strong relationships with mentors, coaches, business partners, and even potential investors.
Other ways to develop your leadership network are business courses, MBAs, Alumni groups, clubs, and professional associations. By widening your circle of leadership acquaintances, you will be able to develop a network of essential referrals, peers, and friends that will support your future business endeavours. You never know who knows who, hence why you want to have a diverse and vast external network of leaders and business connections throughout your career.
Leverage your networks
The key to effective networking practices is to leverage your networks. As a professional networker, your role is to refer, introduce and show up to your three types of networking groups and share information, support, and resources that will add value to each networking group. The best networkers are the ones who influence indirectly and convince others to meet new potential partners. When people in your networks perceive you as a connector, they will automatically turn to you for advice, referrals, and information.
We often hear the term, so and so is well networked; this is the goal of networking. How many times a month can you show up to events? How many people do you meet weekly for a one-on-one conversation? How many introductions and referrals have you given in a month to your various networks? These will eventually contribute to building your professional network reputation as a trustworthy and genuine networker.
Passionate networkers influence their relational environment; they will shape how people perceive them in their respective networks and create partnerships favourable to their business goals. The golden rule of networking is to give more than you ask. Once the word gets around that you have a lot more to offer to your networks, your network will organically grow.