How to build valuable networks

Building social networks may sound easy, but a host of skills is necessary to build networks for a purpose.

Many business owners find the thought of “networking” quite daunting.

Some even shy away from it altogether and hide behind the excuse that they are “introverts”. 

TJ Malamule, professional speaker and brand & business strategist, says networking is every entrepreneur’s currency.

“The saying goes that your network equals your net worth.”

You could be offering the best product or service, but if you cannot connect with people, they will not buy it.

People do business with those they like and who made an impression on them.

They find you “worthy” to be in their network. The more you network, the more you create opportunities for people to do business with you, he says.

Asanda Gcoyi, CEO of CB Talent, says networking is interaction with a purpose. It is about building relationships that become useful at a later stage. 

Impressions count and when people meet face-to-face in an informal environment, such as business lunches or at meetings organised by business groups, they are able to form such an impression.

“We tend to think that building relationships or networking depends on whether we are introverts or extroverts. For me it is all about being a person of value. In whatever you do, you need to be valuable,” she says.

What you can offer is of importance, not whether you are an introvert or extrovert. 

The question you need to ask is why you need to build a network. 

“If you are unable to answer this question, your efforts will be wasted, no matter whether you are an introvert or extrovert,” says Gcoyi.

Malamule says networking is about serving and not selling. People are tired of having things “sold” to them. They are quite happy to receive anyone who is ready to “serve” them. “Every business is supposed to be serving in order to make profit,” he says.

How to network

Powerful business networkers use a strategy to hook anyone in their network by identifying what it is the network needs. They position themselves as a solution to satisfy the need, he explains. 

“Think about it like your first date. You certainly do not start talking about all your achievements if you want the second date. You have to show you are genuinely interested in them for them to be interested in you,” Malamule says.

It is important to be “approachable, sincere, authentic and polite”.

Gcoyi says naturally charming people find it easier to network. “Not everyone can naturally be a good networker. Simply dishing out business cards at events to anyone who is willing to take them is really meaningless.” 

One of the best traits of an introvert is their ability to listen. Use it. It is important to make eye contact and ask open-ended questions that allow the conversation to flow.

Be conscious about the person in front of you rather than focusing on yourself, she advises. 

What is ‘the right’ network?

According to Gcoyi, one can never know if the network is completely what you need. At each stage of a business’s journey, it will be necessary to tap into different networks.

As a start-up, it is necessary to identify the people who need to know about you. Reach out to them, and build relationships in areas which complement your business.

“It is not about building a network and being confident that it is the right one. You have to be continuously building relationships, improving your networks to get them to work for you,” Gcoyi says.

Susan Ward, Canadian business writer and co-owner of Cypress Technologies, writes in an opinion piece published by The Balance that networking helps to identify opportunities for partnerships, joint ventures, or new areas of expansion for your business.

“In an ever-changing business climate it is important to keep up with the target market conditions as well as overall trends in your industry. Knowing the market is the key to developing a successful marketing plan.

Attending seminars and networking with your peers and business associates on a regular basis will help you stay current,” she writes.

Social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are brilliant tools for communicating with customers and business associates.

However, Gcoyi says nothing beats face-to-face interaction if the purpose of building a relationship is to get new business and to sign that contract.

Where to network

Most business people are optimistic and positive, says Ward. “Regularly associating with such people can be a great morale boost, particularly in the difficult early phases of a new business,” she writes.

“If you are not naturally outgoing, regularly meeting new people can also boost your confidence and on a personal basis you may form new friendships with like-minded people.”

In South Africa there are numerous events and organisations that offer opportunities to meet face-to-face, such as sectorial organisations that focus on specific industries and commerce and industry associations.

Start-ups can tap into innovation hubs that organise events where like-minded people can meet and share their information, says Gcoyi.

She adds that there is a tendency to over-use terms like “networking”. When they merely become buzzwords, they lose their significance. 

Businesses must understand the importance of social capital and what it means for future growth. Without it the business does not have the muscle it needs to flourish.

This article originally appeared in the 30 November edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here

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