Business networking is a form of marketing.
All forms of marketing benefit from strongly focused activity, which is necessary first:
- to create awareness; and then
- to build relationships to the point when a sale can be made.
A given amount of effort will produce much greater results when applied consistently in a strongly focused way, than the same amount of effort spread over several wider activities, especially if spread over time too.
This especially applies to business networking websites, where occasional light involvement has little impact, but focused continuous efforts can achieve a visible profile and build very many connections.
The same principle applies to local networking clubs, where occasional participation rarely penetrates the usual inner core of members, but regular enthusiastic involvement inevitably gains attention.
You should also be continuously open to unplanned networking opportunities, which can arise at any time. Business people are mostly normal human beings just like you. They have social lives, they travel, go to shops, sports events, restaurants, pubs, concerts, etc., and do lots of other things that you do too, quite outside of work.
Paths can cross in the most unexpected places. You will find and develop connections in these unplanned situations if you:
- make eye-contact with people and smile
- take the initiative
- start conversations
- generally adopt an open friendly approach to everyone; and
- always carry a pen and some business cards
Thereafter in all cases - planned and unplanned - much depends on what you offer to your connections.
Business networking clubs and websites are full of people with many connections but little of value to offer, and they achieve poor results.
Good results come instead from being friendly and open, from taking the initiative, from working hard at sustaining genuinely helpful contributions wherever you meet people.
In face-to-face networking clubs there is often a 'clique culture', in which members are defensive or sometimes seemingly arrogant. This often indicates a requirement to become known and trusted, which takes time and effort (That said, if there is genuine arrogance, you would be sensible to find a different group).
Business networking, like any other business activity, requires concentrated effort to produce results.
If you treat networking like an occasional or purely social club it will not produce good business results.
Business networking requires sustained effort to make things happen.
Sustained focused effort does not mean delivering a full-blown sales pitch to every person you meet, and plastering your brochures all around the hotel lobby.
Sustained focused effort means working hard to become a regular active helpful presence in the group.
Build relationships first, your reputation next, and referrals and introductions will follow.