>Networking – Like it or loathe it?

>Networking – to build up or maintain informal relationships, especially with people whose friendship could bring advantages such as job or business opportunities (Encarta dictionary)

We regularly hear and read of the advantages of networking but do you hate walking into a room full of strangers and/or find face to face networking difficult to get to? You will be pleased to know you are not alone!! There are many business owners that do!!

But networking does not have to be like this. There are many other ways you can meet and build relationships with business colleagues:

Informal networking at PTA meetings, church functions, your child’s football games, or anything else that puts you in touch with influential people, can end up being as or more powerful than “official” forms of networking.
Making a phone call to one of your contacts just to have a general catch up, is networking.
When you are out socially have a few business cards on you, just in case. Few things are worse than someone who’s constantly thrusting their business angle on you, but if it comes up naturally in conversation that you have an engineering business, and that you make xyz, you’ll have a card handy. And ask for their contact details – that’s networking.
Introducing business colleagues who live near each other or who have complementary businesses is networking.
Spending a few minutes a day on Twitter, or other social networks, engaging in conversation is networking.
Answering (and asking!) questions on LinkedIn about your area of business/expertise is networking.
Joining LinkedIn groups, and being an active member, is networking.
Having a coffee or a drink with a different business colleague once a week is networking.
Attending local business exhibitions (you can normally see list of exhibitors beforehand) and chatting to exhibitors you would like to know more about. Exchange business cards – that’s networking.

All of these activities can be done at a time and place to suit you, and don’t involve the stress and pressure of formal networking events, yet they can still produce the same results.

Importantly, networking should not be when you have some ‘spare’ time but should be part of your business plan. Effective networking is a long-term activity and not a ‘quick fix’.