Networking is the oldest and still the best way to reach out to customers and contacts and to grow your business. Even the staunch introvert is required to network the moment the seed of entrepreneurship takes birth in her mind. Cultivating the right networks can be the difference between success and failure for any business.

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The glue that holds most businesses together is networking. The stronger the network the better the ability of the business to take risks, expand and grow. Most business owners will spend a sizeable amount of time on networking by joining clubs, attending networking events or meetings. Sometimes even money is spent in the pursuit of networking and exclusive clubs, but an entrepreneur would look at it in terms of an investment. Networking is like gardening, it requires a lot of time and patience, and there are many principles of gardening that can be applied to networking.

Give before you can receive

Before you can receive the fruit of your labour, you will be required to give first. You will have to provide good soil, fertilizers and sometimes even a greenhouse to have a productive garden. Networking runs on similar principles. Invest in your network in the form of time, connections, referrals and advice. You will have to give without expectation in order to form good networking relations that might help you later rather than immediately.

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Reap what you sow

To get a tomato plant, you have to plant at least a handful of tomato seeds in order to see a few saplings break out of the ground. You cannot be sure that there will be no weeds among the tomato saplings. Gardening requires patience, it can be months before you can finally eat the tomato. Networking follows similar rules, you will have to reach out to at least a 100 people for 20 to respond to you and out of that 5 might actually be useful to your business.

Tender Loving Care

Any successful gardener will tell you that a good garden requires regular tender loving care. A garden needs adequate attention for the plants to grow and flourish. Networking relationships also need tender loving care for the relationships to become stronger and meaningful. Only a strong relationship can be a helpful network because networks are people after all who thrive on familiarity and trust.

Requires regular watering

Everyone knows that plants needs regular watering for them to grow. Networks needs regular water in the form of meaningful conversations. Only if you are in regular touch with your networks will they grow stronger and be reliable. No one wants to suddenly give business or referrals or even a job to someone who they haven’t heard from in years. Meaningful conversations are the water that is so essential for the life of an entrepreneur.

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Pruning is required

Gardens have weeds and so do networks. They could be business networks, old colleagues or old contacts. Review your email contact list every once in a while and remove contacts that you haven’t been in touch with for years or haven’t contacted you back in spite of repeated attempts. There are also contacts in every network that require you to spend a lot of time or money on them but it is proven that they would never involve with you. In such cases it is better to let go and cut your losses. Prune your networks intermittently to have more productive engagements.

So, pay as much attention to networking as you would to a garden, and sure enough, you will reap it’s benefits in the long run!

Anju Jayaram is marketing lead at Women’s Web