Business networking is an inseparable part of growth. It involves building connections with other professionals through personal introductions, referrals, and now, social media, with the goal of expanding corporate outreach.
But for all its benefits, business networking is often misunderstood in a major way. “Network more” has become the catch-all advice for young entrepreneurs just starting out, but networking isn’t just about collecting business cards, LinkedIn contacts, or name-dropping during business meetings. Proper networking is a low-cost, high-reward social marketing concept that can bring serious value to any enterprise.
Networking is one of the best ways to build and sustain corporate growth, particularly in the early stages of a business’s development. According to research compiled by Hubspot, 95 percent of surveyees agreed that face-to-face meetings are essential for long-term business relationships.
Business networking is ideal for corporate growth as it’s a “compounding” tactic; the more an executive does it, the more value he/she will get from it.
LinkedIn is a great example of this trend in action. The more people a user connects with, the larger the user’s total contact pool becomes. The more people included in this pool, the more visibility each professional article or piece of posted content will have. This cycle continues upward, with the number of people reached and the visibility of corporate marketing materials increasing exponentially over time. This type of industry presence is crucial for sustainable corporate development.
And when it comes to building these connections, executives shouldn’t feel limited by issues like geography or industry proper—the point of business networking isn’t just to turn a profit through new clients. Networking with individuals in other industries and locations is a great way to diversify a referral network. The more minds a strategic networker is connected with, the more value he or she will be able to access. Plus, the differing ideologies found from leaders in other industries can provide valuable insight when developing business strategies for use in-house.
Supporting Employee Culture
The benefits of networking aren’t limited to the business itself—they’re valuable for employees within the business too. Quality business networking supports employees within the enterprise, a process that begins at the hiring stage.
Although job sites and social media are attempting to broaden the job search pool, online efforts can’t hold a candle to in-person interaction. The above research from Hubspot reports that 77 percent of surveyees prefer in-person interactions to less personal forms of communication, as it allows them to read a person’s body language and facial expressions.
And from a hiring standpoint, this preference for personal contact makes sense. There is an inherent element of risk present with every new hire. Employee turnover means wasted time, resources, and manpower—naturally, it’s in any business’s best interest to get it right the first time.
And when faced with hiring decisions among distant, online candidates and candidates that have made in-person connections, the decision isn’t much of a decision at all. All other factors equal, the hiring executive will go with the candidate who has made a personal connection through networking.
In terms of employee management, this practice supports a strong corporate culture by letting hiring managers better assess how a candidate will fit into the company. In this way, business networking supports internal employee harmony by connecting the right people to the right job.
And of course, in addition to corporate growth and creating a strong employee culture, networking is great for personal development too.
In the hysteria of today’s fast-paced marketing, it’s easy for a business to get lost in the shuffle. Online users, particularly younger users who have spent their entire lives around technology, are used to filtering out the noise of online advertisement. Business networking allows an executive to stand out in the minds of other professionals better than those sticking to emails or online channels.
On a personal level, networking is about building relationships within various industries, not just to increase a client pool, but also to show prospects that an executive understands the value of face-to-face relationships. Not to mention the social benefits—regular networking helps keep executive socially-savvy and tuned into the beat of what’s occurring in the business world. For an executive’s personal growth, there’s nothing better.
The Benefits of Business Networking
Networking is an ephemeral marketing tool—it’s hard to prove the ROI of a concept based on personal communication. Although the social media sphere is taking a stab at quantifying personal interactions, outside of channels like LinkedIn or Facebook, executives can’t measure interactions with each other, impressions they make, or how those connections might eventually trickle down into bankable profit.
The value of networking is impossible to deny, though. Growth through networking occurs for one simple reason: Access to opportunities. These opportunities are always tied to the people in the network, and can include a variety of channels:
- Access to Expertise – we all have the tendency to run to Google when we have problems these days, as it’s a sure bet that someone else out there has gone through the same thing. However, the experience snippets we read online rarely provide concrete solutions—or, just as importantly, context for why the problem occurred and how to prevent it from happening again. This context is the true value of expertise, and can only be found through networking with industry experts.
- Access to Referrals – No individual, no matter how well connected, can be a substitute for those with years of industry experience. Having a reliable referral network is one of the most beneficial aspects of business networking. Referral networks let executives draw specific and concrete value from their associates while providing that same value in turn. For example, if executives can’t produce a solution for a business associate, networking allows them to pass that associate along to an expert in that executive’s referral network. With referrals like these, every party involved stands to benefit.
- Access to Competition: Effective business leaders learn just as much from their competitors as they do from their associates. Networking keeps executives in touch with their industry rivals and can be a powerful way to learn about where other organizations may be getting the upper hand. Even if executives don’t connect with competitors directly, building referral networks with the competition’s client base can provide insight into what features drew them into the competitor in the first place.
Building Success with Networking
Business networking is a cost-effective way to foster connections, support corporate growth, and diversify a social skill set, but the practice needs to be approached with care. Few C-suite executives enjoying having “networking” conversations; instead of aiming to pad the contact book, networkers should first try to establish real connections with others, and let the “networking” happen organically.
People may forget faces and names, but we remember the emotional connections we make and the relationships we build throughout the day. And in the end, the relationships we form through networking are the crux of all business encounters we’ll have in the future.