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Build a network to grow your business

With the right contacts, you can go far

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A business network is essentially a social network that connects businesses with each other to further their interests. But not all networks are alike—and the right network for you depends a lot on your goals for your business.

“There are many different kinds of business networks you can participate in,” says Yang-Hai Wang, Senior Client Partner with BDC Advisory Services.

For that reason, Wang says it’s important to know what you’re hoping to get out of your networking efforts up front. What are your goals? Being clear about goals will not only help you choose the right kinds of networks, but also make sure the people you meet understand what you’re looking to get out of associating with them, too.

Build the right network for the right purpose

Industry-specific networks are some of the most common, and can help you gain profile within your industry as well as keep you on top of important trends. You can also join an industry network that your customers belong to, which can be an excellent source of new leads.

Professional associations can help you expand your supplier chain or grow your contacts in a particular area of practice. These are groups that form around a specific discipline such as engineering or accounting.

“And don’t forget about social networks,” says Wang. “Being an entrepreneur can get lonely. Social networks connect you with like-minded people who understand the unique challenges you face. They can share best practices, offer problem-solving support and help make sure you take care of yourself as well as your business.”

For anyone looking to expand their business network—or networks—Wang has the following advice:

1. Choose and prioritize platforms and events

Since you can’t spend all your time networking, focus on a few key in-person events and online platforms that closely align with your goals. Keep your business and personal networks separate, and save platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat for social activities. You’ll have much better success making business connections on a platform designed for business networking, like LinkedIn or industry-specific forums.

Spend more time asking than talking about yourself.

2. Use your time effectively

One good way to grow your network is by attending conferences and industry events. Many of these now offer tools for participants to make appointments with each other in advance and maximize the use of their time. Take advantage of these by reviewing other attendees’ profiles and booking time with promising contacts.

“Show up at those meetings prepared with questions and key messages,” says Wang. “But spend more time asking questions than talking about yourself.”

Wang also says it’s important to be prepared to move on if the fit isn’t right—not everyone you meet is going to offer the same value for your business.

3. Make a good impression

Make sure your online profiles are complete, with enough detail that it’s clear what you do and offer, and include a way to contact you directly. Use an industry-appropriate professional photo. When you attend events or meet a potential new contact, dress for the context and make sure your overall appearance is neat and put-together.

4. Follow up

Making initial contact is an important first step, whether online or in person, but if you don’t follow up, you can easily fall off someone’s radar. Send notes to promising contacts after the fact, picking up on your conversation or providing additional information they may have requested. You might even suggest a meeting or phone call for a more in-depth conversation.

Wang says networking can happen anywhere, so you should always be on the lookout for opportunities to make new connections or solidify existing ones.

“Golf course deals are a cliché for a reason,” she says. “A lot of business gets done over golf or other leisure activities.”

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