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The concept of networking can make some people apprehensive, as many feel awkward or uncomfortable with getting to know others, and putting themselves and their businesses out there. Networking is certainly a skill that takes time to build and hone, and comes much easier to some than others. However, networking is a vital step towards taking you and your business to the next level.
A crucial first step is to clearly define what your goals are. Are you looking to find potential new clients? Or perhaps a mentor in a field related to yours? Or maybe you are looking for training and education opportunities? What is it you hope to gain out of such a relationship? Identifying exactly what your ideal networking outcome would be will help make the process feel more focused.
Some people find the occasions to speak about themselves and their business intimidating, while others revel in the chance to tell others what it is they do. Practice a short, 60-second presentation about yourself. This is commonly referred to as an “elevator speech,” which is a quick overview of what it is you are trying to sell—which in this case would be yourself. Identify what your best skills are, your knowledge, your unique experience, and what it is you offer. It’s important to be considerate of other people’s time, so be as concise with your speech as possible.
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Identifying your market is just as important as expressing what you do. When starting out in a new industry, some feel they don’t know anyone, and have a tough time defining their network. Start small, with friends and family and through social spheres of influence. Attend meetings of organizations in your field of interest or a hobby you hold, and get involved. A network should come from a place of sincerity. Don’t join a group or look to connect with a community where you don’t hold genuine interest.
Be proactive in your schedule and stay organized by tracking your networking. The business cards and contact information you acquire should go into a simple spreadsheet or online contact organizer. It’s always good to start this kind of tracking early, as you might begin to feel overwhelmed as you receive more and more cards and contact information.
Networking is an ongoing dedication. Even after you’ve exchanged contact information with a potential client it’s vital to conduct occasional check-ins to keep yourself on their radar. This will also show that you are willing to stay in touch over an extended period of time, not just when you need or want something from them.
One of the best pieces of advice about networking is that successfully creating lasting connections comes from being true to oneself. Many introverts feel they need to pretend to act like an extrovert in a networking situation. The same goes for extroverts who feel they need to be an enhanced version of themselves. While everyone needs to make an effort to be more outgoing than normal during professional networking opportunities, don’t be artificial. Be your authentic self, and the people you truly connect with will follow.