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Business Networking Success Principle - Why It Is So Important
When to start socializing
In this post I limit myself to contacts that are not primarily aimed at closing deals. So it's not about acquiring customers and orders. If this results from your contact care, it is of course a nice additional effect - but never the sole goal here.
Especially important for lone fighters
As a self-employed person, you need an environment in which you can exchange ideas about corporate management issues and benefit from the experiences of others. Then you don't repeat mistakes that others have already corrected. You benefit from the exchange of ideas and suggestions. This is especially important if you have few or no employees who think along in your company, i.e. you are a lone fighter.
Many contacts in the start-up phase
In fact, most entrepreneurs have a lot of contacts in the start-up phase, e.g. from a business start-up seminar, through participation in the start-up meeting of the local business development agency or at events organized by their IHK / HwK. However, after a year of entrepreneurship at the latest, such contacts often fell asleep. They just weren't cared for. “I didn't have time for that,” is usually the reason - or rather, the excuse. Because this sentence has to be right: "I didn't take the time for that."
Do not fail to recognize the benefits
That is understandable. During the development phase, you don't just lack the time, but often also lack the idea of how helpful such contacts can be. In a downturn or even a crisis, however, they are sorely missed. Therefore, see establishing a network of contacts as part of your managerial responsibilities, right from the start of your self-employment. If you missed that, start now at the latest, so immediately. Reserve some time for it - it is well invested.
Start with an honest "contact inventory"
Write down contacts
On a piece of paper, write down the contacts from the last 6 months with whom you discussed topics of your business life - with the name of the person you were talking to and the topic of the conversation. Then evaluate the quality of each conversation. How big is the basis of trust and how did you benefit from it?
Create list 1
You use these notes to compile an initial list of your contacts. Rate all contacts from “1” to “x”. Start with your most important interlocutor (with the "1"). In this order you should take the time to maintain the relevant contact, i.e. for further discussions and meetings.
List other options
How many contacts do you have on List 1? About 3 people who are important to you with different backgrounds would be good. Either way: Don't be satisfied with that yet.
Write down wishes
In the next step, think about how you could improve your exchange situation. Who is suitable for discussions that is not yet on your "inventory"? So take another piece of paper: Write down the names of people with whom you could imagine a conversation about company-related topics - with names and possible topics that are relevant to that person.
Start from important issues
Can't you think of anyone? Think about the topics you have dealt with in the last few weeks, such as customer acquisition, staff management, complaint processing, bank discussions, advertising activities, organizational processes, etc. This shows you the topics on which you probably need an exchange of ideas. Then think about who could be helpful as a conversation partner. Possible contact partners:
- Spouse / life partner or good friends (regardless of whether they are employed in the company or not)
- Members of your association, your chamber, guild, advertising association, purchasing cooperative, etc.
- Entrepreneurial colleague from the same branch
- Business colleague from another branch
- Tax advisor, business consultant
- Employee of the local business development agency
- Customer advisor at the bank / savings bank
- Customers and Suppliers
Have you identified an important topic that you cannot immediately think of the right person to talk to? Never mind, write that down too, and write an "NN" in place of a name. You will then pay particular attention to closing this gap in future contacts.
Create list 2
Now rate the desirable contacts in a ranking from “1” to “x” - this is your list 2: Which possible exchange partner is likely to be most important to you, second most important, etc.
This is the order in which you should try to initiate meetings. If this really leads to a good conversation, you add the name to list 1 of your contacts from the "inventory" - and from now on you maintain the relationship according to its importance.
There is no rule about how much time you should invest in cultivating relationships. This of course depends on your situation, also on your personality and your individual needs. One contact per month should be the bare minimum if you want to counteract isolation. More contacts - whether meetings or phone calls - are better, but don't get bogged down. In any case, make sure that you have relationships with people from different areas.
How you can specifically use certain contacts
1. Your private environment - the view from the other perspective
Don't just discuss everyday issues
If your spouse / partner works in the company, you hardly talk about anything other than business the whole day anyway - so everything is paletti? Not exactly! Because in most cases you are talking about day-to-day business - but not about the important (medium-term) topics. And because the hustle and bustle often only allows for “door-to-door” discussions. It is better if you regularly take time to talk about everyday topics.
Appreciate openness and clear words
Even if your spouse / life partner does not work in the company, you should also use your contact with them for business purposes. Why? Because this person you trust, probably the most important for you, not only sees things in a more impartial and distant manner than you do, but - hopefully - also dares to tell you some truths that strangers tend to politely conceal. Your partner asks you the uncomfortable questions you need to get ahead - if you only encourage him or her to do so and don't just leave it out because he or she “doesn't understand anything about business anyway”. In principle, what has been said also applies to good friends. The closer you are, the more interest and honesty you can expect.
Use other perspectives
Also keep in mind that someone of the opposite sex is very important to you. Because he / she naturally has a different perspective on what is happening. It is important to use this to get out of deadlocked situations.
2. Your "institutional partners" - challenge them
Your contact list will contain people to whom you have contact via "institutions" - e.g. chamber, association, business development agency, bank. Many of these institutional partners are interested in you because they also want something from you - your solidarity and membership, which increase your own power, or simply your contributions, your money. That is okay too, it corresponds to the principle of performance and consideration.
The good thing about it: You too have every right in the world to demand performance (benefit for your company) from these partners on your part. Don't be too humble. You will be amazed how often you do not bite on granite, but encounter express willingness to provide information and help.
And if not: don't get discouraged right away, try again. As an entrepreneur, you should be persistent. However, if you do not receive any response from a contact person you are interested in, then you should cross them off your list.
3. Colleagues you trust - interlocutors in many company situations
On Build common ground
It is always astonishing how many entrepreneurs fit in with the question of who is a trusted colleague. It's not as if every other entrepreneur has to be cut straight away as an evil potential competitor. After all, all self-employed people share the knowledge of the hurdles of business that no employee can even suspect.
So look for an entrepreneurial colleague (from your branch or another) with whom you can really "do well". Then all you have to do is pick up the phone or type an email into the buttons when you have a question - knowing that an answer will come. And it will leave you satisfied if you can provide useful answers on your part.
Keep your eyes and ears open
Can you think of someone? Great, just talk to him openly about a regular exchange. Or try to build trust step by step with specific questions and advice. And if no one spontaneously crosses your mind, that's not a big deal either - just go through your contact world with open eyes and ears - at some point you will definitely “stumble” over the right person.
4. Exchange of experiences group - done right, a silver bullet
Experience groups, in short: "Experience" groups exist in many industries - but still far too few. What is meant by the “Erfa” group? 6 to 12 entrepreneurs meet regularly (often twice a year) in order to intensively exchange information on operational issues and to benefit from each other.
A typical meeting can be designed like this:
8 entrepreneurs from the hairdressing industry meet twice a year in turn in the cities of the respective shops. The sequence:
- Arrival until Sunday noon
- Visit to the shop of the local "Erfa" member, followed by praise and criticism of the company tour
- Cozy dinner and ending with good personal 4- and 6-eye discussions
- Monday morning conference in the hotel on predetermined topics that everyone has prepared for (e.g. comparison of numbers, marketing, staff management, banking situations ...)
- Finish with lunch and return trip
Experience shows time and again that companies that take part in well-run “Erfa” groups no longer want to be without them. Check whether you can join such a group (ask about it e.g. at your IHK / HwK or your industry association). Or set up an “Erfa” group yourself.
5. Your employees as impulse and feedback givers
Also include temporary workers
Do you already have employees? Then don't underestimate their value as a source of ideas and exchange partners - even if you only employ temporary workers. Employees see and know more than most bosses think and trust them.
Don't stifle criticism
Most employees only express themselves when they are asked - and feel that the question is serious. “Everyone in my office can express their opinion when they go out with mine.” This motto of many bosses is dangerous, because it prevents any critical and thus helpful comment from the outset.
Asking specific questions
Do it better by asking for comments in the 1st step. Ask targeted questions regularly. Examples:
- What are our strengths in the market and how can we use them even better?
- Where can we incorporate improvements in processes?
- How can we address / convince our customers even more effectively?
- How do we find faster access to new customers?
Think for yourself which topics are currently important in your company and formulate relevant questions for your team. It's about taking their point of view - and actually trying to listen and understand what's behind your employees' observations.
In order to keep this process going, you should give your employees feedback in the 2nd step as to whether and how you have taken up their suggestions -
if so: with what results, possibly also with what deviations,
if not: why this has not happened (yet).
Do not ask employees “between the door and the hinge” - that usually doesn't come out much. Announce the conversation and the topic, and then take your time (10 minutes - or longer depending on the topic and the size of the group of participants). This shows that you are serious - and the chances of success are much greater. If you have several employees, make sure that everyone has their say. Even the "silent majority" often has good ideas!
This is how you implement maintaining contacts
You now know what you can basically do to benefit from the experience and suggestions of others. But that is not enough to end the entrepreneurial isolation. You have to put it into practice too!
Of course, the question that will immediately go through your head is when you should also take care of it. You already have enough to do. There is probably only one way to break out of the eternal hamster wheel without damage: Slowly brake, start modestly!
First of all, invest time in one contact per week - this will put you on the right track and give you the motivation to keep going. Then approach the whole thing systematically. Set yourself realistically feasible goals that you put down in a written plan. To do this, fill out the template on the following page:
After each contact, write down a few keywords and decide when you want to "follow up" the next time. After about 4 contacts with a person, take your time to consider whether it makes sense to continue cultivating this relationship. You will then regularly revise your lists 1 and 2. Stay tuned, then this work and time will soon pay off for you. A lot of new impulses, more security in your own decisions and the good feeling of not being alone are a worthwhile reward!
This article was provided by BWRmed! A.
Author: Günter Stein (entrepreneur)
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