Many entrepreneurs belong to networking organizations, but they simply don’t know how to effectively get a return on that investment of time.

Thoughtful engagement is the answer.

Engagement is an absolutely critical step in the networking process. It involves a promise and an action. In order to achieve success with your networking partners, you must promise to support one another, and then you must take the action necessary to fulfill that promise. The only way to do that effectively is to connect on a deeper level than you do with most of your business contacts.

There are several ways that you can become more engaged with your networking partners:

1. Have you taken the time to regularly meet with the people in your network on a one-to-one basis? This means setting up times outside the context of any normal meetings and getting to know them on a deeper, professional level.

2. Have you taken the time to educate them regularly on the key elements of your business, so that your products or services will be top of mind in the event they meet someone with a need for what you do?

3. Have you taken the time to become educated on the key elements of your networking partners' businesses, so that you can do the same for them?

4. Have you visited their offices to get first-hand understanding of their services?

5. If possible, have you used their products or services to get first-hand knowledge of the quality their products or the services they provide?

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Networking truly is a “contact sport.” It involves full engagement in order to get solid results. In fact, research has shown that reciprocal engagement in a business relationship results in higher productivity. According to Psychology Today, people who are “actively engaged” in a business environment are 43 percent more productive than those who are not. Furthermore, they say that engagement includes “regular dialogue, quality of working relationships, perceptions of ethos and values… and recognition.” Effective networking is all about building meaningful relationships that include most, if not all, of these characteristics.

Every time I hear people talk about how networking didn’t work for them, I discover it’s because they have never done a deep-dive on the relationship-building process relating to their networking. Most of their networking activities were very superficial. Or, worse yet, they mostly involved an attempt at direct selling. Networking is not a face-to-face, cold-calling opportunity! When it’s done right, it’s about building long-term meaningful relationships. In fact, networking is more about "farming" than it is about "hunting." It’s about the slow process of cultivating long-term, professional relationships. Over time, this long-term process gives you the opportunity harvest a substantial amount of business, but it only happens with full engagement in the relationship process.

Spend some time thinking about new ways you can support your networking partners. This will help you promote engagement with them in the various networking groups to which you belong. You will find it is time most well spent.

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