Here are three tips to get you started:
* Be prepared. Whether you’re waiting in line for coffee, working the conference circuit, or working out at the gym, potential contacts are everywhere. Seize the opportunity while you can, and determine your contact’s importance later. In general, a bigger network is better because it connects you to more contacts by degrees. Always look your best and have business cards and a quick elevator pitch at the ready, because you never know when you might meet someone you’ll want to add to your network.
* Then consider your contact’s clout. Factors such as involvement in professional organizations and number of years in the industry can help you determine how much clout your contact has. Look at how successful their own business is, because if they are floundering, then it may be hard for them to find the time to help others (not to mention the fact that their advice may not be so sound). Also, if they teach or speak frequently in their area of expertise, then they are probably well respected and connected in their field, making them a valuable contact. Ideally, your contacts would include people who work in your industry but aren’t a direct competitor and whose business ethics align with your own.
* Make a positive impression. Once you’ve thought about who you’d like to target as potential new contacts, you’ll want to make a professional and polished impression. Treat them as you would a valued customer. However, make sure you don’t spend all your time talking shop, because then you will come off as boring and one-dimensional. Instead, try to connect on a personal level, too. Show genuine enthusiasm for learning about their other interests, their kids, their pets, their travel, and so on. It’s the little personal touches that go a long way, so be sure to send a thank you note after someone does you a favor or a holiday card if it’s that time of year.
Of course, the best possible way to keep influential people interested in your business is become useful to them. If you’ve received a hot tip from a reliable source that you think they could use – especially if you can’t use it yourself – then pass it on to them. As one hand washes the other, you’ll find that your business relationships become stronger and your own influence in the industry becomes more noticeable. And who knows? Maybe you’ll soon have fledgling businesses trying to impress you in the same way.
© 2012 Ali International, LLC
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