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

C.J. Hayden – Business and Leadership Coach

C.J. Hayden is a business and leadership coach, and the author of Get Clients Now! and Get Hired Now! Since 1992, she’s been helping people make a better living doing what they love. Both of her books have spawned active reader communities where people get together in groups to work through the books’ 28-day programs for marketing and job search.

C.J.’s articles on marketing, entrepreneurship and leadership appear regularly in Home Business, RainToday, and About.com.

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

C.J. Hayden: Networking is a process, not an event. It consists of building relationships with a pool of contacts from which you can draw opportunities, customers, referrals, resources, ideas, and information.

Whether you are a business owner or employed in an organization, networking is a significant key to success without struggle. If you have a solid network, finding a new job or a new client can be almost effortless.

Without a network who can refer and introduce you, you have no choice but to cold call or send out resumes blindly, which decreases your chances of success dramatically.

Josh: Can you share a couple of ideas that someone could put into practice that would help them to improve their business networking skills?

C.J. Hayden: I think successful networking is more about your mindset than your skillset. People sometimes think they “can’t network” because they are not outgoing enough or don’t enjoy meeting strangers. But these qualities are not prerequisites for networking. The place to begin is to approach it with the willingness to give generously of yourself and a genuine desire for reciprocity.

Let’s say you are looking for a new job, and you know some people who work for companies where you might like to work. When you contact them, you ask if they would be willing to spend a few minutes of their time suggesting departments where you might fit or managers you could contact.

In return, you offer to do something for them. You don’t have to know what that something might be. The important part is making the offer and being sincere about it. Then let them tell you if there is anything they want in return. Often, they will tell you there is nothing they want from you, but because you made that generous offer, they would be happy to hand deliver your resume to the CEO, or put in a good word for you with the VP.

Or suppose you are self-employed and looking for referrals to build your business. Look around you at the people you already know, in both your business and your personal life. Which of those people is in a position to come in contact with your ideal customers all the time? Those are your most likely referral sources.

Instead of just asking them to send you referrals, approach them by asking what they need the most right now in their own business or career. Then look to see how you might assist with that need in some way. Perhaps you know someone you could introduce them to, or you took a helpful class on that same topic, or you could even refer them some business.

Once you have asked them what they need and offered to help, that’s the time to let them know you are seeking referrals and perhaps they could help you. Don’t worry if you can’t always help someone else with exactly what they are looking for. It’s making the offer that’s important.

Josh: How do you encourage referrals from your network?

C.J. Hayden: One of the most powerful ways to encourage referrals is also one of the simplest and most overlooked. Stay in touch with people. You don’t need tricks or gimmicks, you don’t need to pay referral fees, you don’t need to get aggressive and demand names and phone numbers on the spot. Simply by staying in touch with a wide range of people over time, you will generate a continuous stream of referrals.

One of my favorite ways to do this is the “thought-you-would-be-interested” note. I am constantly sending people emails or handwritten notes that include items I ran across that I thought would interest them.

If you are looking for clients in the legal field, you might get a forwarded invitation from me about an upcoming conference for law firm administrators. If you’re looking for work in health care administration, I might send you a link to a list I found online of the top 50 local health care providers with the names of their CEO’s.

If you are writing a book, I might send you a newsletter with an article about negotiating a book contract. Almost every time I send one of those notes, it generates a new referral, because the person I sent it to is reminded of me in a positive, helpful way.

It sounds like it would take a lot of time to do this, but really all I do is this. Instead of throwing things away, I first ask “who might be interested in this?” Whether it’s a piece of paper or an email, usually I can think of someone in my network it would be useful for, and I send it along. It’s easy to do, it’s quick, and it generates lots of goodwill for me.

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