Knowledge Networking vs. Referral Networking

Most people are involved in at least two types of formal networking groups.  The first is intraprofessional networking, or “Knowledge Networking,” as Megatrends author John Naisbitt calls it.  Knowledge Networks foster self-help, information exchange, improved productivity and work life, and shared resources, according to Naisbitt, who cited networking as one of the ten megatrends impacting our society.

The second type of networking is interprofessional networking: multidisciplinary professionals and occupational types who network to increase each other’s business.  In fact, the primary purpose of most interprofessional networking groups is to increase one another’s business through referrals.

In good interprofessional networking, participants get either the majority of their business or their best business through referrals.  Organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Jaycees, and BNI® are typical groups in this category.  Different groups offer different strengths and weaknesses in helping to generate word-of-mouth business and it’s important to look closely at the makeup and structure of the various organizations that you might join before selecting those that best fit your needs.

If you haven’t had much success in business organizations in the past, don’t let that get in the way of doing what needs to be done to build your business through word of mouth today.  The best way to begin the process of building a referral-based business is in a group or groups of other business professionals.  The only alternative is to meet one person at a time, which inevitably means you’re going to be working harder, not smarter.

The only people who are going to make referrals for you consistently are people who know you and trust you: your friends, associates, customers, patients, clients, peers, and family members.  Strangers are not going to consistently give you business.  You need to start spending time with the right people in structured professional environments.

If you’re interested in building your business through referral networking, here are four tips to help you do it efficiently:

  • Join several different types of networking groups and diversify your word-of-mouth activities.
  • Develop your company into a Hub Firm, a firm that other companies rely on to coordinate efforts in providing effective services.
  • Don’t be a cave dweller.  Get out and meet other business professionals in the myriad of business organizations which exist for that purpose.
  • The only people who are going to make referrals for you consistently are people who know you and trust you.  You need to start spending time with the right people in structured professional environments.

Do you have any additional tips or tactics which you’ve found particularly effective in building a referral-based business?  What has worked best for you?  I would love to hear your insights so please share your thoughts in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

Get Your Act Together

Let’s face it: As a businessperson, you’ve got a lot going on. There are people to see, places to go and a whole lot of stuff to do. Can you do all this, and look and act presentable at all times, too?

Quite frankly, getting and keeping your act together can be a little overwhelming for even the sanest of people, so here are some tips:

1. Look the part before going to a networking event.  You’d be surprised how many people fall short in the fundamental area of appearance. If it’s a chamber of commerce networking breakfast, don’t dress casually–wear a good suit or outfit. You need to be well-rested and clearheaded when attending a morning networking session; make a conscious effort to get plenty of sleep the night before. If you’re not a morning person, hit the sack earlier than usual, so you don’t look like the walking dead. Regardless of how many cups of coffee you’ve had, people can tell if you’re not all there.

2. Make sure your body language sends the right message. When it comes to forming networking relationships, most of the important information–trustworthiness, friendliness, sincerity, openness–is communicated through nonverbal cues such as posture, facial expression and hand gestures. When engaging in conversation, look the other person directly in the eye and stay focused on what he’s saying. Lean a bit into the conversation rather than away from it; don’t stand rigid, with your arms crossed.

3. Be prepared. Make sure you know which pocket your business cards are in, and have plenty on hand. Nothing screams, “One of these days I’ve got to get organized!” louder than handing a potential referral partner someone else’s card.

4. Remember to smile. Studies have shown that if you smile when you talk, you seem more open and forthright. Obviously you don’t want to go overboard with this, and start grinning and shaking hands like a hyperactive clown; just show that you’re having a good time, and that will send the right message.

Perception is reality when it comes to meeting people for the first time. If people perceive you as not being right for them, they simply won’t be inclined to refer business to you, regardless of the work you can actually do. However, by keeping the above tips in mind, you’ll go a long way toward creating the right impression in the blink of an eye.

Make the Connection

One of my employees told me this week that she passed some advice from one of my books on to her cousin; it was about making connections at networking functions.  She told me that her cousin, Greg, recently joined a chamber of commerce to promote the new business he started after being laid off from the company he had worked in for a number of years and he felt clueless as to how to form connections with the strangers he came in contact with at mixers.

My employee remembered reading an article by Alice Ostrower in my book Masters of Networking about making connections so she passed it on to Greg. Reportedly he feels much more comfortable at mixers and has been having a lot more success in networking his business because he now has a strategy for making connections and he feels he knows his purpose when he arrives at a networking event.

Here are the four standard techniques that have been working for Greg and I guarantee they will help you get your networking message across effectively and encourage a positive response (Thanks, Alice! :)):

1.  Get the person’s attention.  Show interest by asking questions: “How are you?” “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” “Have you heard about? . . .” “Did you know? . . .”

2.  Add interest.  Respond to the answer but don’t move the conversation to you; elicit more information from the other person.

3.  Involve.  Use the “feel, felt, found” formula (“I know how you feel, I felt the same way, and this is what I found”) to involve yourself in the other person’s message before you deliver your own.

4.  Network.  Tie it all together by connecting one person’s needs or goals with the resources, needs, or goals of another person.  For example: “I felt the same way until I met John Jones.  He really helped me accomplish my goals.  Why don’t I have him give you a call?  Is tomorrow evening convenient?”

This is networking at its best.  Your new acquaintance finds a solution to a problem, your referral gets new business, and you gain a reputation as a friendly, reliable, knowledgeable person who seems to know everybody.  Your name and reputation will become familiar to more and more people, and your business will automatically benefit in the long run.

Learning to Use the Law of Reciprocity: 4 Tips

I posted a blog this past Monday explaining what networkers need to know about the law of reciprocity, and I promised that I’d follow up today with some tips on what to keep in mind as you learn to use the law of reciprocity in your networking efforts. Below you will find four very important things to remember:

Tip No. 1–Giving means helping others achieve success. What is your plan to contribute to others? How much time and energy can you spare for this? Do you actively seek out opportunities to help people? You could volunteer to help out with something that’s important to someone in your network, offer advice or support in time of need, or even work hard to connect someone to a valuable contact of yours.

Tip No. 2–The person who helps you will not necessarily be the person you helped. Zig Ziglar says, “If you help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want.” In other words, what goes around comes around. If you focus intently on helping others, you will achieve success in the end.

Tip No. 3–The law of reciprocity can be measured. It is a myth that networking cannot be measured and, in my latest book, Networking Like a Pro, my co-authors and I use the Networking Scorecard Worksheet, part of the Certified Networker Program offered through the Referral Institute, to measure networking. If you apply the law of reciprocity, you will see your weekly total networking score gradually rise.

Tip No. 4–Success takes getting involved. Contrary to Woody Allen’s assertion that “90 percent of success is just showing up,” you have to do more than simply be present to be a successful networker. If you join a chamber of commerce, become an ambassador. If you join a BNI chapter, get involved in the leadership team. If you join a civic organization, get on a committee. The law of reciprocity requires giving to the group; it will pay you back many times over.

A master networker understands that, although networking is not the end but simply the means to growing a business, service to your network of contacts must always be uppermost in your networking activities. Once you have established a solid reputation as someone who cares about the success of others, the law of reciprocity will reward you with an abundance of high quality referrals.

Three Essential Questions

How can a time-strapped businessperson figure out which networking events she should attend and which she should let go by the wayside? 

The answer: Develop a networking strategy.

Here are three easy–but definitely essential–questions you need to answer in order to create a plan that will work for you. 

Who Are My Best Prospects? 
It’s important to know that each target market will have a strategy that requires you to network in different places. If you’re not sure who your target market is, look at your list of past clients. What industries were they in? How long had they been in business? Were your clients even businesses to begin with, or have you worked mostly with consumers?

Once you’ve put together a profile of your past clients, ask people close to you for patterns you may have overlooked and get their input on who might be a good fit for your business.

Where Can I Meet My Best Prospects?
As you begin targeting specific niche markets, there are other venues and opportunities that fall outside the typical networking event.  Here are some examples of specific target markets and where you should network to find people in these markets:

Small-business owners–chamber of commerce, local business association, referral groups

Representatives from big corporations in your area–service clubs, nonprofit groups, volunteer work, homeowners associations

Consumers–your kids’ events: Little League, Boy Scouts and so forth

Whom, Exactly, Do I Want To Meet?
Even if you can’t name the people you want to meet, the better you can descibe them, the greater the chance you’ll get to meet your ideal contact.

Be as specific as possible when asking for a contact because it focuses the other person’s attention on details that are more likely to remind him of a specific person rather than if you asked, “Do you know anyone who needs my services?”

Networking works.  It’s just a matter of developing a strategy that puts you in contact with the right people. That’s exactly what the three questions above will help you do.

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