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How To Make The Most Of Your Network

Building great networks can be a significant factor in your business’s success.

Richard Branson

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Succeeding in business is all about making connections. While we at the Virgin Group have never hired anybody whose job description was limited to making internal and external contacts, it’s implicit that almost everyone on staff has these skills.

This has helped Virgin to expand into so many different industries, from music to mobile phone services: As we build connections in other areas, we have been able to grow our expertise and multiply our reach.

Your greatest asset.

For an entrepreneur, the ability to forge connections is a great asset. When you’re conducting business in a field where you don’t have specialist expertise, it’s often the only way to get a job done right.

I was thinking about this topic as we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the launch of Virgin Records. We got the original gang back together and went for a tour of all our old haunts in London.

It brought us back to the heady days in the 70s when Nik Powell was planning Virgin Records’ expansion into retail, Simon Draper was out scouting the coolest new bands, Tom Newman was experimenting with new recording techniques and I was busily marketing our brand.

During the tour, we visited the church crypt that we used as an office for Student Magazine, the houseboat my family and I had lived on, and Virgin’s original head office in Notting Hill.

In retrospect, it was interesting how close the tour locations were — in those whirlwind first years, we quickly built a creative community where lots of like-minded people lived and worked. Those connections benefited everyone involved, in the same way that the networks in Silicon Valley and London’s Tech City have promoted innovation.

Related: 4 Ways to Build Stronger Relationships

Friends in the field.

My three friends and I have had our fair share of arguments over the past four decades, as people will — especially when they’re running a global business together. But we all went on to work on different projects, and we were always ready to shake hands again.

I’m delighted that we’re still so close. Our celebration gave us a chance to renew those friendships and make new connections: Everyone is still full of ideas and working on various new ventures, and as we spent time together, we came up with more plans, as always.

The importance of  Networking.

That got me thinking about how important networking is for entrepreneurs, and how to encourage people to network. It’s all about personal contact.

No matter how heavy your workload is, do not allow yourself to work in your office all day, every day. For your own well-being and the health of your business, you need to get out and about, meeting people and developing relationships. If you discuss a work matter with an employee or a potential client over coffee rather than simply sending over an email, you’re more likely to build rapport, which will be useful if you ever need to tackle any problems together.

Good managers give their teams the freedom to set their own schedules, realising that the same is true of employees’ relationships with their co-workers and the company’s clients.

That said, you can also make great connections while sitting at your desk. Through social media, you can get in touch with almost anyone, and then connect in the real world as well.

Just recently, a 12-year-old business studies student sent me an email asking for some tips, and I spotted her note and wrote back. These days, the only thing stopping you from building up your network is how much time you dedicate to it. Everyone can and should be a networker.

Those good connections will breed more good connections. In the end, it all comes down to talking to people. Track down people you would love to work with and start sharing your ideas. You’ll soon discover that you have found some great partners — and more importantly, some great friends.

Related: 5 Rookie Networking Mistakes to Avoid

Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He is the author of "Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur."

Networking

The 12 x 12 x 12 Rule For Successful Networking

If you follow the three parts of this rule carefully, you can learn to network successfully.

Brian Hilliard

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The following excerpt is from Ivan Misner, Ph.D. and Brian Hilliard’s book Networking Like a Pro. Buy it now from Amazon.

Perception is reality. How many times have you heard that saying? Probably enough to know that the way you’re perceived really does affect the business you conduct (or don’t conduct) with other people. This is especially true when it comes to networking and meeting someone for the first time, and this is where the 12 x 12 x 12 rule becomes so important.

Basically, this rule involves three questions:

  1. How do you look from 12 feet away? Do you look the part?
  2. How do you come across from 12 inches away? Does your attitude and body language reflect what they first saw?
  3. What are the first 12 words out of your mouth?

What we’re talking about is how important it is to create the right perception of yourself and your business.

Let’s face it: As a businessperson, you’ve got a lot going on. But, most prospects don’t care how much you’ve got going on or how many balls you have in the air. They just want to know if you’re a potential solution to a problem they have, and their initial perception of you goes a long way in making that determination.

The same is true for potential referral partners.

They want to know if they can trust you with their referrals – people (and sometimes clients) with whom they have a good relationship. Do you have your act together so you won’t jeopardise their good name when they refer business to you? Right or wrong, their initial perception of you is going to play a large part in answering that question.

This is precisely what the 12 x 12 x 12 rule is all about. It looks at you from the perspective of other people (prospects or referral partners) and shows you how to optimise their perception. This doesn’t mean manipulating or deceiving them; experienced people can see through that. Nor is it about checking your personality at the door. What it does mean is fine-tuning your networking practices to avoid shooting yourself in the foot.

Related: Great Places To Take Your Clients When Networking

Let’s go over the specifics of the 12 x 12 x 12 rule and how you can manage the perception others have of you.

Look the part before going to the event (How do you look from 12 feet away?)

professional-appearanceYou’d be surprised how many people fall short in the fundamental area of appearance. If it’s a chamber of commerce networking breakfast, don’t go casual. Instead, consider wearing a good suit or nice outfit. You need to be well rested and clearheaded when attending a morning networking session; make a conscious effort to get plenty of sleep the night before. If you’re not a morning person, hit the sack earlier than usual so you don’t look like the walking dead. Regardless of how many cups of coffee you’ve had, people can tell if you’re not all there.

Make sure your body language sends the right message (How do you come across from 12 inches away?)

When it comes to forming networking relationships, most of the important information – trustworthiness, friendliness, sincerity, openness — is communicated through nonverbal cues such as posture, facial expression and hand gestures. When engaging in conversation, look the other person directly in the eye and stay focused on what he’s saying. Lean a bit into the conversation rather than away from it; don’t stand rigid with your arms crossed.

When meeting someone for the first time, a lot can be said about how much your attitude can impact her first impression. Make sure that when you’re talking to others, you have a positive, upbeat attitude.

Another part of the “12 inches” away rule is making sure you know which pocket your business cards are in and having plenty on hand. Nothing screams, “One of these days I’ve got to get organised!” louder than handing a potential referral partner someone else’s card. So make sure you have some type of system for keeping your cards separate from the cards you receive at the event.

One more thing: Remember to smile when meeting someone for the first time. Studies have shown that if you smile when you talk, you seem more open and forthright. Obviously, you don’t want to go overboard with this and start grinning and shaking hands like a hyperactive clown; just show that you’re having a good time, and that will send the right message.

Related: The Top 10 Behaviours To Avoid When Networking

Make sure you’re ready to speak (What are the first 12 words out of your mouth?)

When someone asks you what you do, make sure you’re ready with a response, or unique selling proposition (USP), that’s succinct but memorable. A good USP is the offline equivalent of a good post on social media… something that promotes curiosity and engagement. The attention span of the average adult is 20 seconds; a long, drawn-out answer to the question isn’t going to work. Whatever words you choose, make sure your answer is quick and informative without sounding over-rehearsed or contrived.

Perception is reality when it comes to meeting people for the first time. If people perceive you as not being right for them, they simply won’t be inclined to refer business to you, regardless of the work you can actually do. However, by keeping the 12 x 12 x 12 rule in mind, you’ll go a long way toward creating the right impression in the blink of an eye.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Networking

Why I Never Meet Someone For Coffee

The conventional offer of “getting coffee” is, in my opinion, one of the most frustrating offers that can be made.

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First off, I need to make clear that I am not against meeting people for coffee or even drinking coffee. My issue is that I’ve learned that the offer to go get coffee usually means that somebody wants something from me. Whether it is time, money or to help them make a connection, an offer to grab a drink almost always has some ulterior motive behind it.

You might think that I flat out don’t want to help others, but the real issue is the other opportunities that I have in front of me. I have a lot on my plate, so dedicating the time to a “quick” coffee meeting does not make much sense.

Related: Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

Say no to getting coffee

Hours spent in the office doing business are not the time to sit back, relax or socialise. I try to be as efficient, effective and statistically successful as possible during work hours (and beyond). The conventional offer of “getting coffee” is, in my opinion, one of the most frustrating offers that can be made.

I rarely take anyone up on the offer to “do lunch” during work hours. Just consider the amount of time that it takes to get to and from a coffee or lunch meeting, and how much business could be done in that same time.

Then, think about the inefficiencies of utilising that time for things such as small talk, even before you get to the critical business issue.

Have an objective in mind

I have the objective to try and keep every phone call to a maximum of five minutes. When it comes to in-person meetings, I prefer them to take place at my office or overlapping other meetings I have outside the office, which I call “holding court.”

Even then, I try to keep those meetings to 20 minutes long. This allows me to fit in as many meetings or calls as possible. So many people make the excuse that they are “doing business” and then leave the office to do unimportant things, or overlap their meetings around errands.

Make no mistake, I’m not advising against meeting people in person. I’m saying take control of the business opportunity and have them come to you, or meet them somewhere convenient when you are outside of the office.

Related: 5 Ways That Coffee Affects Productivity

No coffee, just grind

The majority of lunch and coffee meetings that take place are nothing but an inefficient use of time. I would suggest not only rejecting such meetings during work hours, but to also stop asking for coffee meetings unless they’re absolutely necessary.

How do you determine whether or not a meeting is necessary? Take a look at the reasons and impacts the meeting can have. If these outweigh the potential drawbacks of an in-person meeting, then it is acceptable to ask. Make sure that you focus on making efficiency a key principle when chasing your objectives.

Stay focused in on critical business issues and you will find that focus will provide you with everything you desire in business and life.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Great Places To Take Your Clients When Networking

Are you hoping to make a lasting impression on your client? Maybe you are trying to woo a new client? If that’s the case, you’re going to want to read on and check out these great places that are ideal for taking your clients to.

Jeff Broth

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Do you live in South Africa and work at a job that entails taking clients out while networking? Are you tired of doing the same activities over and over? Are you hoping to make a lasting impression on your client? Maybe you are trying to woo a new client? If that’s the case, you’re going to want to read on and check out these great places that are ideal for taking your clients to.

Introduce Them to Casino Action and Fun

There’s no better way to make a splash with your clients than by taking them to one of the many casinos found in South Africa. Between the cities of Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Queenstown, Pretoria, and Sun City there are more than 15 casinos to check out. Casinos offer a light and fun atmosphere that is perfect for letting loose. At the same time, they aren’t too loud, which means you can go ahead and sneak in a little shop talk.

Related: The Top 10 Behaviours To Avoid When Networking

Besides the casinos, you can also take your clients to horse races and even bingo. If the casino action is a big hit with them, be sure to let them know there are a large amount of South African online casinos that offer all the same types of games, plus a whole lot more.

Enjoy a Sports Game

sports-ground

Professional sports events are another fabulous spot to take your clients. You get that laid back casual atmosphere that allows you to stray from the traditional business attire, it’s a chance to get out of the office, and you can introduce your client to your own home team.

South Africa is well-known around the world for its love of sports. Among the most popular are rugby, cricket, and soccer. If you want to take them to the most popular sport in the country, however, soccer is the clear winner. Loftus Versveld and Ellis Park are two stadiums that are known to draw in some very rowdy crowds. Just be sure to get your tickets well in advance so you don’t end up disappointing your client.

Share the Local Cuisine

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking your client out for a meal, this particular option tends to be over-done. In order to make yours a memorable experience, skip the chain restaurants and typical locations and instead introduce your client to local and authentic cuisine. These are the places the tourists don’t tend to visit, but the locals know all about.

Plan an Adventure Tour

paragliding

Before you go ahead and choose this option, it’s a good idea to learn as much as possible about your client in advance. Not everyone is up to adventure activities, so you want to be sure you don’t put them in an uncomfortable position.

Related: 3 Practical Tips To Nail Networking

If you’ve got the green light, however, there are all kinds of activities you can take part in. Adventures can include a private helicopter tour, paragliding, zip-lining, a shark watching tour, a private surfing lesson, whale watching, kayaking, a sightseeing tour (by bus, car, or foot), bicycling, hiking, snorkelling, horseback riding on the beach, or even High Tea in Cape Town.

All of these ideas are unique and memorable so you know the visit will leave a lasting impression in your client’s mind.

Don’t Be Afraid to Think Outside the Box

When it comes to entertaining your clients while you spend time networking, there is absolutely nothing wrong with thinking outside the box. Coming up with unique ideas is sure to leave that lasting impression in their mind, which is exactly what you are striving for.

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