Expert Advice On Business Networking And Tips On Developing Your Networking Skills

Interview with Danielle Rodgers – Entrepreneur and Communications Consultant

Danielle is a fledgling entrepreneur who is sharing her journey as a contributor on the blog SmallBusinessBranding.com. Her business venture, launched in June 2006, offers a new concept in dating by helping single men and women to connect through conversation, humour and playful banter using her board game. Prior to this adventure she was self-employed as a consultant helping companies to communicate more effectively with their staff.

Josh: How do you define Business Networking and why do you feel it is important?

Danielle Rodgers: In essence Business Networking is about going out on to the dance floor as opposed to hugging the walls hoping someone will approach you. I would define it as taking a proactive approach to engaging with the wider business community. It’s important because in business anonymity is your enemy.

Networking is akin to building a reservoir as opposed to relying on intermittent rainfall. It also broadens your playing field in the way that traveling broadens your mind.

Business Networking is more than a tool to grow your business, it’s an essential part of the framework. Without it your chances of survival are slim to say the least. And if it’s done haphazardly it will seriously inhibit your growth.

Josh: Can you share one or two ideas that someone could put into practice that would help them to improve their business networking skills?

Danielle Rodgers: Networking is all about connecting with people. Which is a bit like saying business is about making money. The difficulty is always in the “how”. Here’s a few ideas on how to make memorable connections:

* Use wit. They say that a laugh is the shortest distance between two people. And people like people who make them laugh. So remember to lighten up and throw in a funny remark every now and then. Besides, “fun” turns the brain on… you’ll both enjoy it more and they’ll remember you.

Note: In a business setting if someone is continually cracking jokes it can mean that you’re boring them. (Or they’re practicing to be a standup comedian.) If this happens, just stop talking, laugh with them and then give them the floor for a while. The ability to be entertaining is probably one of the most valuable skills you can have in your repertoire. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most difficult.

* Improve your communication and conversational skills:

Many competent business professionals feel uncomfortable in a networking environment. Perhaps because it can feel “forced” or “fake”. It certainly can be daunting and requires good social skills. Some people try to compensate with an aggressive presence which is really not appealing.

For those who feel a bit uncomfortable, or are lacking in confidence, I recommend joining a group designed to help you become a better and more confident communicator, such as Toastmasters. Or any other group where you can learn and practice your communication skills in a supportive environment.

Read a variety of books on how to become a better communicator. Practice what you’ve read. Go out of your way to create conversations with people – anyone and everyone – and use the techniques that you’ve read about.

* Be friendly and be interested.

They say that any subject becomes more interesting to you when you know something about it. This extends to people, so ask questions. Open with the more obvious “ice breaker” questions then move away from them and into the more “left field” type questions. Left field questions say, “I’m interested in you”, and are the ones that will bear the most fruit. Be curious without being nosy; you’ll be surprised at what you uncover. Asking questions that show you’re interested in learning more about who they are is where connections begin. For you and for them.

* Be yourself. Do you.

Josh: How do you follow up with the people you meet? Do you have any particular system in place for keeping up with and managing the relationships in your business network?

Danielle Rodgers: I’m not a gung-ho networker, so I follow up with people only if I feel that we connected in some way. That’s really my main criteria. And when I follow up I continue the “conversation” in order to start building a relationship with them. That can be anything from a tidbit of information that may interest them to a seminar/blog/event (insert whatever’s relevant) that may be of interest. It may also be of a personal nature. As in, here’s the name of that shop I was telling you about… I prefer to reach out to them as a person (which is what I like people to do with me) than to use the “sales approach” i.e., Hi, We met the other day at such and such (WHAM)… here’s the info for my next session (BAM)… book now and bring your friends! (THANK YOU MAM)
A friendly “hello, I was thinking of you” has far more impact.

I usually only stay in touch when I think it’s genuinely relevant (such as if I’ve come across something I think may interest them), or if I have something specific I want to approach them about. And also at appropriate times such as Christmas.

I enter the people I’ve met into my database and usually categorise them as “primary” or secondary. This denotes my “connection” with them, not what they do. My secondary contacts are people who just spray business cards at you. In the business scheme of things, my secondary contacts are ‘acquaintances’. Primary contacts are ‘friends’.

-You can visit Danielle Rodgers at www.closeconnexion.com.au.

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