How to network successfully

Business relationships are one of the most important prerequisites for a successful entrepreneurial journey. Whether it’s for feedback, advice, introductions, or even funds, having fruitful business relations can open many doors.

But these relationships don’t appear out of nowhere and no CEO or investor was born into them. Sure, people can be born into wealth. But maintaining business relationships is all about what each individual brings to the table. 

And networking is the most reliable way to get them.

What Is Networking?

Networking is defined by Investopedia as ‘the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social setting. Networking often begins with a single point of common ground.’

In my experience however, networking is about more than this, it’s also about authenticity. If anyone, rich or poor, successful or not, goes into a conference and tries to network to get something in return, people will catch on. 

Networking is about two or more people connecting, and discussing their experience honestly, with no ulterior motive.

But networking doesn’t just happen between startup CEOs and investors. Professional networking helps anybody broaden their horizon, capitalize on opportunities, and even just have a great discussion.

But just how valuable is networking?

Networking Statistics

While it can be hard to gage the value of networking, some numbers do give us an insight. For instance 85% of positions are usually filled through networking. The same study shows that for every dollar invested in business travel, $12 comes back in a company’s bank account. 

And people that network understand this value. Over 80% of professionals consider networking important for career success. In fact, 41% would want to do it more frequently. 

With the global remote work phenomenon brought on by the pandemic, many people prefer to network remotely. But that’s not the most viable way. And professional networkers know it. Over 84% of them still prefer in-person meetings. No wonder! A large portion of communication is non-verbal. In especially traditional professional environments, a firm handshake and a good first impression can still go a long way.

So how can people leverage networking to their advantage?

Networking In Person

Catalyzed by the Covid pandemic, online networking has gone global in recent months and the online meeting platform market is expected to top $57 billion in coming years. Despite this, would be champion networkers should first get the basics covered first – and master networking in person.

The most important prerequisite here?

I’ll say it again, it’s authenticity. When someone goes to a conference, a business or product launch, or even an informal meeting, they stand a higher chance of forming long-term business relations by just putting themselves out there.

Working on an introduction, speaking honestly, and participating in a conversation to provide value rather than get something are all key for successful networking. 

It’s very similar to marketing and sales. If a company is too pushy with their products, they’ll likely drive potential customers away.  By contrast, if they’re focused on providing value to their target audience first, and then nudging them ever so slightly towards a purchase, more people will convert.

Networking is the same. As long as people manage to participate actively in a discussion, they’ll broaden their network, regardless of where they are.

A Firm Handshake And A Big Smile

While good conversation is key, the formalities shouldn’t be thrown out the window and how you say is just as important as what you say. First impressions depend a lot on paraverbal communications too, so prospective networkers should focus on speaking confidently, with authority and with good body language. 

A firm handshake, a big smile, and a warm introduction can go a long way to solidify a good first impression, and a productive networking session. The window of opportunity to make a good first impression is very small, so make sure you get it right! 

Networking Online

Online networking is a big part of modern professional life. While it does have its drawbacks, it’s a very effective method to complement in-person networking. But it does, at times, require more work to pull off right.

The first step for successful online networking is a strong online presence. This doesn’t mean thousands of followers on LinkedIn, or a strong presence on the SERP, but at least a presentable outlet. 

Imagine real-life networking, if new contacts could instantly drop by each other’s office to see what they’re up to. To a certain extent, that’s how online networking operates. Whenever a contact is made online, both parties can drop by the other’s website, social media profiles, or check their appearances in the media.

So how can people have a strong online presence?

  • Focus on the fine retouches. At this point, most people reading this article probably have a LinkedIn account. And a website. Most likely other social media accounts. And they’re probably fine… but not perfect. The first step to a strong online presence is to spend those extra hours on a good bio, a beautiful site design, and some content to highlight expertise and authority.
  • Copy what’s working. As long as we’re not talking about digital marketing experts, people don’t have to innovate with their online presence. It’s enough to see what bigger names are doing, and get inspired by that.
  • Employ branding best practices. Whether it’s for a business, or a personal brand, making an identity visible online is important for networking. It’ll provide more insight into your mission, and help new contacts get closer to you.
  • Reach out. Cold emailing is great for customer acquisition, but it can be even better for networking. Without something to sell, and with a genuine interest to connect based on a common interest, it’s much easier to get a reply.

I hope this article has been useful and some of the tips included help you as you go out and build your network!