In today's fast-paced and wired world, making new business contacts is becoming easier than ever before. However, some businesses are connecting with the wrong people, contacts who not only don't want their product or service but who are also not able to provide opportunity or greater market reach. The connections businesses need to focus on, and which are vital to your business--whether it be a product or service--are called high-level networkers (HLN), also known as center-of-influence connections.
To take your business to higher levels, you want to be a great networker and reach out to high-level people. HLNs are movers and shakers, decision-makers and action-takers.† They are active online and off, they know people, people know them, and more importantly, people listen to them. These connections can be key influencers in an industry or community, and they are the people who can help take your business to a higher level by connecting you with people or opportunities.
As a great networker, you must be flexible and approach connection-making as a constant outreach that extends far beyond an event or chamber mixer. Furthermore, be a risk-taker and ask people next to you what they do and where they are from; you never know who will be sitting on the airplane next to you, who will be behind you in a line, or who will be in a group discussion area in an online meeting place. Don't let these opportunities pass you by. Remember, don't hesitate to network with someone who has no obvious connection to your ambitions: Your new contact may be able to give you relevant names of his or her friends and colleagues.
Far too often, people don't reach out to a high-level connection in fear of rejection, forgetting that the whole point of networking is to reach out to people you don't yet know. Many high-level networkers can now be found on LinkedIn, a business connection site. If you don't yet know them on LinkedIn, simply ask for an introduction through a mutual connection, or take the risk and ask if they would like to connect. Give them a reason why you would like to add them into your professional network. You will most likely find that they too are an open networker and that they will gladly accept the invite.
Here are five tips on how to take your networking from ordinary to extraordinary:
- Reach Out: Commit to connecting with a minimum of 25 new HLNs every six months to keep your company in front of the "make it happen" community. You will find them online with at least 500 connections; they are active and posting daily as well as have complete profiles with recommendations and testimonials. You can also find them in communities at events, in political circles, leading community organizations, or media personalities such as news anchors, radio hosts or reporters.
- Follow Up: One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is not following up to build and maintain long-term relationships. It is vital after you meet with a contact to write a thank you note. Tell your contact how much he or she helped you, and refer to particularly helpful, specific advice. Everyone--even the most high-level executives--like to feel appreciated.
- Keep in Touch: In addition to immediate follow-up after a meeting or conversation, keep in touch with your contacts. This way, they may think of you if an opportunity comes up, and they will also be forthcoming with new advice. It's important to stay on their radar screens without being imposing or invasive. And, of course, if you get that new job or land that deal, be sure to tell them and thank them again for their help.
- Make it Easy: You also need to make it easy for your contacts to keep in touch with you as well as help you. Explain what you specifically want and ask detail-oriented questions. For example: "I'm looking for opportunities in hotel hospitality. Do you know anyone who is a decision-maker at a resort or high-end hotel in the San Francisco area?† May I have their names and phone numbers? May I use your name when I introduce myself to them?" Also be sure to have your complete contact information on all the social networking sites on which you are active.
- Listen: Most people love to talk about themselves. By asking your contact to offer valuable insight from his or her personal experiences and successes, he or she will feel important and respected. Who doesn't like to feel like an expert? Be sure to avoid making general demands, such as "Do you know of any jobs that would be good for me?" This sort of question is overwhelming, and it puts an unnecessary burden on your contact.
Starr Hall is an international speaker, author and social media strategist. For more information, visit www.starrhall.com. Hall's latest book from Entrepreneur Press is Get Connected, The Social Networking Toolkit for Business.