If there’s one thing that’s sure to improve your business, it’s networking. Connecting with like-minded professionals in your industry is a fantastic way to learn, grow your business and be inspired. However, it’s not as easy as calling someone up to ask for a few favours or pieces of advice.
There are certain rules and guidelines you need to follow when building your professional network. These are part of what’s called networking etiquette – a code of best behaviour in the business world. Let’s take a look at the top five rules for good networking etiquette. Keep these in mind during your networking journey and your book of contacts will be overflowing in no time.
Networking is all about building business relationships, but remember the key word here is ‘business’. After all, you’re focusing on your career here, not your social life! Be sure to keep all your exchanges professional and have your business needs in mind at all times.
Your communication channels need to be businesslike, too. When it comes to networking, your Hotmail account and your personal mobile number just aren’t going to cut it. Try Gmail or Zoho for a custom email address and eVoice for a professional phone number. Similarly, add business contacts to LinkedIn, not Facebook.
Networking is a two-way street. Building business relationships involves giving help and advice to other professionals as well as getting things in return. For example, if you’re seeking someone’s opinion or asking them to help you out on a project, it’s only fair that you’ve offered them something similar in return (or plan to do so in the future). This kind of mutually beneficial connection is what you want to achieve when networking.
There’s no place for sneakiness or hidden motives when it comes to networking. You don’t want someone to think you’re only trying to connect with them to gain a few referrals, or to bleed them dry of their best business advice.
Instead, you want to be open and honest right from the start. Have a frank discussion with potential connections about what you’re hoping to gain from networking with them, and what they’d like to gain from connecting with you.
Don’t try to network with anyone and everyone. Restrict your professional contacts and engagements to people and businesses in your industry – those whom you think it would be beneficial to develop a connection with. Don’t forget that the relationship has to be beneficial for them too.
When considering a new connection, identify three things: their area of expertise, how they might be able to help you out professionally, and how you might do the same for them. These three factors will help you determine whether a business connection will be relevant or not.
Again, this comes back to the point about equal business relationships. Don’t ask more of your connections than you’d be willing to give yourself.
Exchanging advice, assistance and services is fantastic, but make sure you draw the line. As a professional, there are certain things you would not do without charging a fee. If you’re expecting someone else to give you these things without you paying for them, you’ll quickly lose their interest and respect.
Networking can often lead to successful partnerships, in which one or both parties employs the other to complete work with or for them. You need to recognise when it’s time to stop asking for services and start paying for them instead. And again, this goes both ways – don’t be afraid to charge people for your services when you think the time is right to do so!
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