No, No… Not Me, Not Networking

Small Business Networking Shaking HandsResearch consistently shows that it is the entrepreneurs with the extensive network who are most likely to succeed. Yet many small business founders do little to grow and enhance – or even use – their network. How about you?

A real value of a good network is the connections it allows you to make to ideas, services and support you need to develop your business and succeed. You want people with technical and business expertise that complements yours. Add those with wide-ranging interests and specialists – both help you with the future. Plus friends for support and peers for inside info. Attending professional events, including those the Alexandria SBDC offers, is an easy way to meet new people who may be valuable in your network.

When you need to hire employees, your network can often provide referrals who match your needs far better than an ad or job posting. The trick here is to be specific about what you need, what results you expect from the new hire, and what your company offers and expects. Clearly communicate all that to your network and ask for help. The candidates you receive this way are generally better qualified in terms of the job and a better match in terms of your culture.

The same process is useful when you need outside services, advisors, or referrals to competent attorneys, CPAs, consultants, etc.

Network Effectively

Start by carving out a bit of time daily over two weeks to look the people you know already. Decide how to connect or re-connect. Will you use LinkedIn, another online tool, the phone, or what? Improve your most relevant connections first. What do you want and what will you give in return? Don’t forget your community or personal contacts, they offer a lot more than many think.

Networking is always a two-way street! ‘Feed’ your network before you need it.

Once your existing contacts are firmly in your mind and you have acted to reconnect as necessary, you may want to increase your network. Start by looking at the pile of business cards you probably have tucked in a desk drawer. Contact those who interest you and suggest a coffee or phone call to exchange information about your businesses. Look at the members of professional organizations you belong to and see who you want to meet. Always go to events with a plan for talking to new people to learn more about them – some will become good contacts. Look into local business groups as a way to grow your business and your network. Ask your current connections for referrals when you have a specific interest or need. This should become just a normal aspect of daily activities, not a special process.

Using Your Network

Pass information around on your network. This can be done easily online with short emails, links to relevant articles, and so on. But do not forget the human connection – pick up the phone or go out for coffee together. Introduce your connections to each other where you think they would be useful to each other. Share your knowledge. Offer your expertise when you can.

Then on a specific issue, like the hiring example above, you can ask individuals for information or assistance on an issue you are facing. Reach out – most folks are likely to help you if you are keeping up the connection already.

Networking does not work well when you only do it in need of something. Human connections need to be a regular part of your daily life. But it also does not need to be a big, time-consuming process. Keep it simple, keep at it – and help yourself and your organization succeed!

Patricia A. Frame is an experienced management consultant, HR executive, speaker, and author on human capital issues. She is known for her ability to address organizational goals and issues effectively and to create human resource management practices which support these goals without excessive administrivia. Patricia has advised executives and boards on a wide range of human capital and strategic planning issues. She has expertise in organization development, talent management, process restructuring, compensation, and training. She has worked with technology-based companies, government contractors, non-profits, associations, and retail operations. She advises small to mid-size organizations on ways to succeed and to help their employees thrive. Ms. Frame has given seminars for SBDC in recent years on the basic processes of HR management. Additionally, she generously provides one-to-one HR counseling once a month through Alexandria SBDC.

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TELL ME NOT…

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy EganThe economy is going up – except when it is going down. Are we in for another recession, a depression, or a boom? The political campaigns are in the negative, all attack mode and making many people more fearful.

But today came and you need to make a living, build your business, and grow.

Maybe you are fearful. You are swamped with so many ‘to do’ things. The things you know you need to get done. Those you keep meaning to do. And all the plans and goals you say you must define. If you could find the top of your desk or the bottom of your email inbox, you’d be delighted – for a day, maybe.

If customers are too demanding, you feel pressured by those expectations and wonder if you can sustain the demands and grow. If you do not have too many demanding customers, you feel pressured by the need to find more.

Right now a lot of folks wonder whether they can sustain their business dreams and goals. Many entrepreneurs and managers are hunkering down instead of inspiring and leading people.

And I am remembering a Wadsworth poem:
“ Tell me not, in mournful numbers
Life is but a dreary dream…”
It is from “A Psalm of Life” and very 19th century in tone but real too – you can find it here: http://bartelby.org/102/55.html

Do you know that there are studies which show that connecting to others, even electronically, raises levels of a brain chemical involved in feeling good? Just think, a nice cold lemonade with a business colleague could make both of you feel better! And if you used it to do some brainstorming about your business issues, so much the better. A series of notes to your connections to learn more about potential opportunity — and you are feeling better able to cope.

Organize. Whether you end the day by planning for the next or start the new day with 10 minutes to organize and plan, a small effort each day becomes a big goal achieved. Give yourself 10 – 15 minutes each day to move forward on one small step to a larger goal and see for yourself.

Need help? Bet you know someone else who does also and you can become peer coaches. Or you can hire a coach. Or an expert in a field you need to learn.  Or talk to the Alexandria SBDC.  Or undertake some online research to create your next step.

Buy someone you admire lunch and get a little mentoring on how they did whatever you admire them for. Or if you need a good swift kick, go read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.  And I thought I had had some bad times to overcome!

You can create the future you want. And help the economy we all are a part of too. Are you in?