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Understanding the Etiquette of Networking
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Every entrepreneur can benefit from networking when they establish their new business. Obtaining the necessary startup capital as well as finding prospective consumers for the business highly depends upon the entrepreneurs’ networking ability. Networking goes beyond simply meeting people and exchanging business cards with them. It is the art of building associations and establishing a solid trust between both parties involved so that each can benefit from one another’s strengths. The following tips will allow the entrepreneur to understand the etiquette of meeting people and how to effectively establish contacts and exchange ideas for networking.

1. Always look, act, and speak professional
Appearance and mannerisms are initial components that people often rely on when evaluating someone. Therefore, it is crucial that entrepreneurs make a positive, lasting impression on those whom s/he makes contact with. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to look clean and respectable as well as conduct their actions in a professional manner so that others will take them seriously. The use of slang should also be avoided by the entrepreneur when networking because the problem with slang is that not everybody may understand it. In addition, some people may consider it rather offensive.

People who have interacted with well-respected, well-dressed, and well-spoken business owners were able to establish more trust and loyalty with them as opposed to the entrepreneurs whose appearance and actions did not take precedence. Effective networking is about building relationships with others who can refer you once they have come to trust you, have confidence in you, and feel loyal to you. This is why looking and acting professional is crucial for successful networking.

2. Always carry business cards with you
Another good way to successfully network is for the entrepreneur to carry their personal business cards with them at all times. This makes the process of establishing contacts easy since the business owner can simply distribute the cards every time they meet a new acquaintance in a social or professional setting. Business cards contain pertinent contact information about the new business owner, including their name, phone number, e-mail address, and website. The design of the business card should be simple, clean, and easy to read.

In addition, part of business etiquette includes the fact that every time an entrepreneur gives out their business card, they are encouraged to ask for a business card in return. This ensures the mutual exchange of contact information, which is instrumental in maximizing a solid network of contacts. Comments should be written on the back of each business card obtained, including the time, date, topic(s) of discussion, interests, and any other significant information vital for a follow up.

3. Always follow-up with contacts
Any prospective contacts that have been established should always be followed up with either a telephone call, an e-mail, or personal hand written note. The entrepreneur should take the process of follow up seriously since these important contacts may be essential in the launch and growth of their company. It is also a very good way of showing an entrepreneur’s true intention and genuineness when it comes to business practices. Follow-ups should be made from a few to several days after the initial encounter, ensuring that the interaction with the contact remains pristine. Any follow-up after a few weeks may be considered too long a period for any party to accurately remember any individuals, conversations, or any events that took place on a given day.

4. Be prepared to pitch
Another important aspect in effective business networking is the ability of the entrepreneur to present their elevator pitch at all times. Whether they are at a social or professional situation, they must be prepared to “pitch” their ideas to anyone and everyone in the hope of establishing a successful network of contacts. It is a good practice to always be ready to present an elevator pitch because of the prospect of meeting potential investors, customers, or professionals who can add value to one’s new business. Continuous pitching will also enable an entrepreneur to refine their ideas and strengthen their presentation through repeated practice.

Since one’s elevator pitch takes ample preparation, rehearsal will not only make it flawless but it will also convey a business owner’s level of confidence. An elevator speech should be creative and concise, lasting no more than one minute. Things such as body language, eye contact, speech volume, and emphasis of words are important in grabbing the attention of audience members. It can also convey the entrepreneur’s passion for their ideas and vibrant personality. The use of general statements and excessive statistics should be avoided. An entrepreneur who creates a perfect pitch that clearly states its objectives and provokes discussion will be able to successfully establish networking contacts over those whose pitch is boring and not well-constructed.

5. Contact current customers via telephone, e-mail, direct mail, newsletters
An excellent way to establish a good rapport with existing customers is to contact them and discuss their recent purchase. This can be made via e-mail, telephone, and direct mail. By informally asking existing customers to rate their shopping experience at their store and/or ideas on a particular product, entrepreneurs will be able to learn more about how their customers perceive their business and work on improving a customer’s overall shopping experience.

In addition, an entrepreneur can easily establish ways of keeping customers by offering them exclusive discounts and promotional offers through e-mail and direct mail. It is crucial that entrepreneurs contact their customers and offer these bargains because it reflects a company’s loyalty to their customers. In the same respect, happily satisfied customers will pay more for items if a company makes them feel important and if they have had a positive customer service experience. Therefore, it is vital that business owners do things which will establish a loyal group of returning customers who will refer their friends and families to the same services. Customers should also be given the option to subscribe to newsletters advertising current sales and newly launched products and services. A solid relationship with existing customers through e-mail and direct mail interaction is a sure way of establishing new contacts, especially if the current customers are happy with the services.

6. Be culturally aware
Another important component of network etiquette is cultural awareness. If the entrepreneur is considering business in a foreign location or dealing with international contacts, then cultural differences should be strongly taken into account. For example, in the United States, Americans present their business cards rather informally, during social and professional events. The card is either placed in their pocket or bag immediately. The Japanese, on the other hand, have a more formal approach when presenting their business cards (or meishi). When they have established a business contact, the Japanese use both hands to hold the top two corners of the card facing up and towards the person receiving the card so that it can be easily read. The receiver should take the card by the lower two corners with both hands. The business cards (or meishi) are also organized in a case according to the highest rank contact.

In addition, when networking, it is imperative for an entrepreneur of a new business to understand the subtle, unspoken dynamics of social space (or separation) in every culture. Social space refers to the distance and/or physical contact between two or more people conversing or interacting in a given setting. In the United States, there are four important separations to consider. For example, one’s public space can range anywhere from 12 to 25 feet, while social space can be an area of 4 to 10 feet. Personal space can be 2 to 4 feet, while intimate space extends up to one foot. Americans often like to make physical contact with others, including handshakes, hand-gestures, hugs, and/ or innocent pats on the back. While it may seem normal in America, many cultures may feel uncomfortable and embarrassed with such contact.

In Saudi Arabia, the social space among individuals is equivalent to the American intimate space; therefore, there is no need to be alarmed or disturbed if a Saudi business contact seems as if they are standing a little too close during conversation. The people of the Netherlands have a personal space that is equivalent to our social space; therefore, entrepreneurs who plan to meet with Dutch contacts should remain at such a distance during the course of their meeting.

7. Be involved on and offline
Business owners can also network by building alliances on and offline. By attending meetings, workshops, and speaking at conferences, an entrepreneur can easily network with people in their industry and establish solid leads. In addition, by participating in online forums, chat rooms, mailing lists, and social networking sites designed for business owners, one can also maximize their chance of establishing new potential leads.

Go4funding.com is an online platform where members can easily network with others. New entrepreneurs and existing business owners, who are looking to raise capital, can post their capital requirements for prospective investors. Likewise, investors can create a profile so entrepreneurs can find them easily. By becoming a registered member of Go4Funding, users will have the opportunity to establish potential leads, correspond with existing members, participate in community forums, and rank existing posts.

Professionalism is the single most important factor that creates a first impression with others; therefore, it is vital that entrepreneurs look and act professionally, especially when they want to network. They are encouraged to carry their business cards with them at all times and distribute them whenever possible. Follow-ups should always be made with any new contacts as well as with existing customers in order to make deals and/or establish more connections and leads. Entrepreneurs are also expected to be prepared to “pitch” their ideas at anytime, be culturally aware when dealing with international contacts, and to become actively involved with the business community both on and offline in order to effectively network. One important aspect to bear in mind is that networking does not necessarily occur overnight. In fact, it takes time to network and to build solid relationships with others. No investor will provide startup capital to anyone without first interacting with the entrepreneur, learning about them, establishing trust, and feeling confident about the business proposal and the business owner.

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