How would you assess your effectiveness as a small business owner or executive in these critical areas of business development?
- I am a pro-active networker
- I maximize every networking opportunity by asking: Who do you know who…?
- I present myself in a way that is clear, succinct and generative
- I enjoy promoting and creating visibility for myself and my business
- I have a structure that is effective in organizing and promoting follow-ups
- I model a professional look that represents who I am and what I do
- I am satisfied with the bottom line outcomes of my networking efforts
If improving your skills in any of these areas would generate greater income, would you be interested? Most of us would answer yes. The question then is HOW?
First, networking needs to be defined. Lillian Bjorseth in her book Breakthrough Networking offers one of the best definitions for networking that I have read.
Networking is an active, dynamic process that links people into mutually beneficial relationships.
Business really is about relationships especially in today’s competitive marketplace where the economy has created numerous entrepreneurs who are all competing for the same piece of pie.
With the ever-increasing impact of outsourcing, the pie for many of today’s business owners has changed not only in taste but also in size. Knowing the right person or persons is critical to converting networking activities into billeable dollars.
The next step is to plan your networking and work your plan. This is really a series of steps that integrates the communication process, your strategic plan and professional image.
Turning Communication into Dollars
Understanding that communication is a process separates successful networkers from unsuccessful networkers. Effective networkers excel at active listening by:
- Taking the time to listen
- Being present
- Listening using the FOR acronym – Feelings, Open Mind and Retention
These individuals respect the 55+38+7 Communication Rule and many have extended their skills into neuro-linguistic programming. Mark Twain understood active listening when he commented that if the good Lord wanted us to talk more than to listen, he would have provided us with two mouths instead of two ears.
Effective networkers also have developed an infomercial, tag line or elevator speech. In less than ten seconds, these individuals can state what they do. This short statement generates additional dialogue and interest. Creating this short statement is an evolving process that utilizes trial and error. However, the outcome is well worth the effort.
Aligning Strategic Plan with Limited Resources
In reviewing one’s sales activity, every effective salesperson understands how many contacts generate how many prospects which in turn result in a confirmed sale. A strategic plan based upon market and sales analysis helps to determine where individuals need to direct and align their networking efforts. These efforts may focus on local chambers of commerce or extend to professional networking organizations. Each effort needs to be regularly reviewed to determine the impact both on return on investment (ROI) and daily time.
Maximizing Professional Image
Professional image is three fold: physical appearance; business stationery and personal behavior. By combining all three of these areas, individuals create greater opportunities for business development.
Physical appearance includes color, fit, and style of clothing. However, physical appearance extends into other areas such as hairstyle, cologne, posture and even vehicles. Effective networkers present a complete physical appearance that is convincing and natural.
For many, business cards are one area that is often overlooked since they:
- Reflect your professional printed image
- Speak to your professionalism
- Communicate who you are
This is the time to revisit the marketing section of your strategic plan as well as your advertising budget. Hiring a graphic artist to create a professional logo will be dollars well spent as long as you understand what your business does. Creating additional stationery from letterheads to brochures is much easier once your printed professional image is established.
Personal behavior encompasses everything from handshakes to common etiquette. By walking your talk, you project a consistent professional image. With much of today’s business coming from satisfied clients or informed business acquaintances, maintaining high standards of personal behavior will help to develop additional business. The following statements may help you determine if you are walking your talk.
- I handle all personal contacts with confidentiality.
- I refrain from negative verbal comments regarding competitors, suspects, prospects and clients.
- I treat all individuals with respect according to my company’s values statement and my own personal and ethical beliefs.
- I keep my word by responding within a designated time frame.
- I have a positive attitude at all times.
Networking is an on-going experience in which we continually hone our skills. Successful individuals continually network and build upon those mutually beneficial relationships because business in today’s global market place is all about relationships.