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It’s never been easier than it is right now to network, nurture relationships and get in touch with people who can support and influence your business. Social media makes it easy to learn about people, contact them and build rapport through conversation and interaction. But in a noisy digital world where we’re more interconnected than ever before, real world relationships are more important than ever.   

There’s a real risk that while you may have 500 “friends” on Facebook or 750+ “connections” on LinkedIn, you’re losing the 3D relationships that can help support you and your business.  People work with people they know, like and trust – and when you have met “in the flesh” you can establish a deeper relationship and rapport than with any online interaction.

So here are 5 tips to improve your real world networking:

(1) Keep an eye out for ways that you can help people you already know.

Twice in the last few months, casual conversations with acquaintances have led to business opportunities.  One was a simple chat at school drop off with another Mum from my school. Talk turned to what I do for a living, and by the time the bell rang she was asking me to help her with her Christmas client newsletter which needed to go out within the week.  That job completed, we’re now chatting about opportunities to work together in the New Year to ramp up her marketing and communications strategy.

When I came across an online booking system that would be perfect for my kids’ swim school, I mentioned it in passing to the owner when I next saw her at the pool.  Little did I know, that very week she was looking for online booking options to save her 90+ hours of piecing together the jigsaw puzzle of matching 800+ kids to instructors at their parents’ preferred times. She asked me to send through a proposal and the new website and booking system is now well underway.

On neither occasion was I “pitching for business” or approaching the person as a prospective client.  But by taking the time to have a chat, and by offering help or recommendations to solve their problems, we found ways we could work together. I’m quite sure that had I approached either via email the outcome would not have been the same.

(2) Take the time to have a coffee with a new contact

When we’re juggling so many commitments, a “coffee meeting” with no clear outcome may seem like a waste of precious time.  But when we meet new people – either online or at networking events – we can only scratch the surface of what they do and all they can offer.  A coffee catch up can give us great insights into what our new contact does, and what challenges they face, and how you might be able to work together.

(3) Work those networking events

Networking events are a dime a dozen these days, and it’s impossible to go to all that are on offer. But choosing the right events (those that attract your target audience or potential partners) and being strategic about your networking can yield good results. Many networking events now give you a list of attendees in the lead up, or have a social media hashtag that lets you keep an eye on the feed and see who’s attending. Identify people you’d like to meet, or even make contact before the event and let them know you’ll keep an eye out for them.   

(4) It’s not all about you.

No matter how you’re meeting people, an important thing to remember is that it’s not all about you. As Dale Carnegie says in How To Win Friends and Influence People – “Become genuinely interested in other people”.  Not just in how they can benefit you, or whether they will buy from you, but genuine interest in who they are and what makes them tick. Most people love talking about themselves and their interests. By giving them an opportunity to share their thoughts, and by engaging in an authentic and meaningful way, you not only build a real relationship but also find out much more about them. So don’t be that person who heads into networking events trying to work out how many business cards you can hand out. Try and collect insights instead by asking questions and getting to know people.

(5) There is power in follow-up

As our networks expand, people come in and out of our consciousness quickly and often. The folks who really stand out are those who take the time to follow up. Whether you provide some information they mentioned they were looking for, send them a handwritten card to say “thank you” or “great to meet you” or provide an introduction to someone they should know – follow-up is an easy and valuable way to stand out from the crowd. It’s a priority that’s often pushed down to the bottom of the list for many people – put it in your repertoire and set yourself apart from the crowd.

ACTION: Identify one way you can nurture or strengthen a real-world relationship this week – and every week. The return on your time investment will be a network of people ready and willing to engage with you.

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