Risk and opportunity are two sides of the same coin, and business leaders shouldn’t focus on one over the other. They work together. Those who thrive in today’s business climate find ways to take advantage of possibilities for organizational innovation and competitive advantages, while mitigating the surrounding risk.
One tool that can help you manage risk and seize opportunities is building a strong and diverse network.
“For example, if you have a cyberattack or your system is hacked, you want to already have those vendor relationships built for how you’re going to handle the situation. And that’s where networking really helps,” says Kim Riley, president of Hylant’s Cleveland office, who moved to the area three years ago, after 20 years in Nashville.
“When I moved to this city, I had to figure out how to build a business, how to grow the business in a new city that I had never been in,” she says. “Networking and encouraging my team to network is what I did.”
Smart Business spoke to Riley about how to build a network to help grow your business.
Why is it important for employers to build a network? How does this relate to growth?
By networking with other organizations, you and your team can:
- Find new opportunities to invest in.
- Build deeper relationships with your current client base, helping them find opportunities for growth.
- Learn about acquisition opportunities, whether that’s a similar business or a new line of business.
- Build trust with other vendors that you may need to solve a business issue later.
- Forge strong connections with centers of influence who can provide introductions or open doors.
- Attract new talent, which has grown more important as workforces tightens. It helps put your brand out there and spreads the word to potential employees.
What are some networking best practices?
It takes more than one person. Build a culture around it, so everyone in your organization is out there, has their eyes open and is bringing connections back. As you collect business cards or meet people along the way, you’ve got to decide which are the best opportunities for you. If you work with a team of people, you can collectively determine which opportunities best fit with each team member to maximize the effectiveness of everyone’s efforts.
To keep your relationships from going cold, you’ll need to come up with a system for how you’re going to keep them engaged. That’s difficult, but you can use social media — LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. — to stay in touch regarding birthdays, work anniversaries or promotions.
It’s not something where you typically carve out an hour and network. It’s more of a mindset: ‘Who can I connect to my network today? How can I connect those dots? If I’m trying to talk to a company about an issue and I need a vendor who can help me, who in my network can help me have that conversation?’ One idea is to try to eat breakfast or lunch with people you don’t know, as often as you can. It will help you build your network, give back to others and build relationships along the way.
It’s also important to build rapport and trust before you put your hand out. Rather than meet someone and expect them to help you, first help them. Go into the conversation thinking, ‘What can I do to help them and their business?’ For example, try to connect anyone you meet with at least two others in your network, while spreading those introductions across your network.
Where do business leaders go wrong when building a network?
A lot of people only want to network with decision-makers, which puts pressure where everyone is bombarding the CEO or CFO. Some networking articles say you need at least three to five relationships within a company that know you and know who your firm is, before they’ll make a decision to change a vendor relationship. You can’t have just one relationship within the company.
You also don’t want to just have relationships with your peers. When you’re networking, value every person you meet. If someone isn’t a decision-maker yet, as they start moving up in the organization or spin off and create their own company, they’re going to remember that you took time with them and helped them along in their journey.
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