Here are 10 ways to build a stronger business network

When it comes to building strong business networks, the first step is realizing there’s always something you can do to strengthen your business relationships. Once you realize there’s work to be done, you’re ready for the top 10 ways to build a stronger business network:

The telephone is the first place to build relationships. A phone call may be initiated by a potential client or vendor. The first step is to always actively listen to their needs, hear between the hints of a sale and really get to know what that client needs. Once you’ve heard the needs, you need to capture the information.

Coffee, lunch and afternoon tea … Oh my! If you’re going to grab a quick bite to eat or maybe a latte, think about inviting someone along for the conversation. Chance encounters are great. But when you meet on purpose, powerful things happen and business gets done.

Amp up your staff meetings. Yes, meetings can be humdrum. But if you are looking for ways to pack some punch into your staff meetings, start focusing on how to help the people in your business networks.

Get to work. Ivan Misner, the father of modern networking and founder of BNI, has always said, “It’s not net-sit, it’s not net-eat, it’s net-WORK.” This powerful statement is a mantra that you hold as you traverse your next networking opportunity. What are you going to bring to the table to build rapport and business?

Serve others. Service organizations like Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions Clubs are about serving the community. Some might think that listing a service club doesn’t make sense in the overall picture of networking, but joining a service club will deepen your networking relationships.

Continuing education. Education continues well past the point of handing in completed assignments to a teacher. Business networking is a skill that can be learned and refined through what you read, listen to and watch.

Offer thanks. The person that sends you a referral should be thanked. There are several ways of making that happen — from just a simple thank you to some kind of referral gift, like a coffee card. The more creative you are, the more it will mean to the person being thanked.

Use social media. Social media remains important in any networking effort. There’s a wide array of things you can do on social media, from publicly thanking someone for their stellar service to asking for a introduction. If used right, social media offers a window into your business network that can’t be duplicated.

Talk the talk. Are you being effective when you have the opportunity to have a conversation with your business network? Are you asking for a referral or are you asking about a cat? There are times when small talk is necessary to get the conversation going, but remember you’re having that conversation for a reason. Steer back to that reason before you part ways.

Plan ahead. Planning your week with all the networking opportunities goes beyond adding the next chamber event to your calendar. There are many networking opportunities during your week. One of the biggest is the telephone calls to clients you have to make. Think about ways in which you can either hook that client up with another person in your business network or ask for a referral.

Building a stronger business network depends on how much time you’re willing to put into your network. On average, a successful word-of-mouth marketer will spend a minimum of nearly seven hours a week working their network. How much time do you spend? Be honest.

Taking your game up a notch could mean scheduling more time to work your network, or it might mean refining what you’re already doing. In either case, strengthening your network will pay you back in not only increased referrals, but also stronger relationships with your business partners.