7 Tips for Networking Newbies

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Photo courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For three decades, I have been traveling the globe teaching business owners and entrepreneurs how to effectively grow their business through referral marketing.  During the course of my travels over the years, I’ve found that time and time again, those who are new to networking are hungry for information on how to get started.  This makes complete sense because, after all, as crucial as networking is to business success, it still isn’t being taught in colleges and universities.

I think the main questions most new networkers have relate to trying to figure out what kind of networking group or organization is right for them.  It can be overwhelming because networking is a big commitment if you’re going to be successful at it and you certainly don’t want to join a group that isn’t a good fit for you.  So, if you’re new to networking and you’re in limbo about what groups you should or shouldn’t invest your time and effort with, I’ve outlined seven tips below that will help you narrow down the direction in which you should head. 

1) Strong Contact Networks are groups that meet weekly for the primary purpose of exchanging referrals.  Their meetings tend to be well structured and include open networking, short presentations by everyone, more detailed presentations by one or two members, and time devoted solely to exchanging business referrals.

2) Community service clubs give you an opportunity to put something back into the community where you do business while making valuable contacts and receiving some good PR to boot.  They can be a good source of word-of-mouth business.

3) Your goal in tapping into professional associations is to join organizations that contain your potential clients or target markets.

4) Women’s business organizations have been instrumental in shaping the nature of contemporary networking organizations.  Many groups are established as bona fide networking organizations; the members are there to network, and everything else is secondary.

5) Don’t let chance decide where you’re going to spend your time and effort.  If you have associates, partners, or employees, consider their participation when deciding which groups each of you will target.

6) When evaluating groups, find out when and where they meet, then schedule those you want to visit during the next two to six weeks.

7) For each group, consider these issues: How long has the group been in existence?  What is the basic philosophy of the organization?  How many members does it have?  What is the quality of the membership?  How does the cost compare with other forms of marketing?  How often does it meet?  How do other members feel about the group?  What is your overall impression of the group?

Whether you’re just getting started in the networking world or you’re a seasoned networker, I’d love to get your feedback on any additional tips which you’ve found to be particularly effective.  Please share your thoughts in the comment forum below; thanks in advance for your participation!

Is Networking Worth It If You Work for Someone Else?

Photo courtesy of patpitchaya at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of patpitchaya at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whether you’re self employed or you work for someone else, it is definitely worth your time to start looking for networking groups that can refer you new business.  If you work for someone, take steps to persuade your employer that you will get business by working with these groups.  I’d like to share with you a true story which demonstrates how this can greatly benefit you.

I met a bank manager several years ago who worked hard at persuading his supervisor that participation in a BNI® chapter would yield substantial results for his branch.  The supervisor reluctantly agreed to let him join on a trial basis.  The manager began getting referrals soon after joining.  After several months, another member gave him a particularly good referral–a man who was disgruntled with the level of service at his current bank.  The manager decided to visit the man at his company.  The man told the bank manager that he felt he was not getting personal service from his bank.  The manager assured him that his bank prided itself on service.  He gave the man his personal mobile and home phone numbers and told him that if there were a problem he could be reached any time of day, at home or at work.  The man thanked him for coming to his office and told him he would get back to him.  

Two days later, at 9:00 a.m., the man was standing at the bank door with several savings and checkbooks in hand.  The manager met him at the door and thanked him for coming to the branch.  The man said he was impressed with the way he was handled by the manager and that he had decided to transfer his accounts to the manager’s bank.  To the astonishment of the bank manager, the new customer handed over checking, savings, and money-market accounts totaling over $950,000!  After everything was completed, the man told the manager how glad he was to be referred to him by their mutual friend.

I first heard this story when my office (BNI Headquarters) started getting phone calls from every branch manager in Southern California who worked for that bank.  Each of them wanted information about local chapters of BNI.  When the bank manager who got the $950,000 referral told his supervisor where he got the referral, the supervisor (Remember him?  The reluctant one?) called all his other branch managers and told them to join a local chapter of their own within the next two weeks.

If you work for someone else, the lesson here is to persuade your supervisor.  Not long ago, I spoke to an individual who wanted to join a networking group but was told by his boss that the company wouldn’t pay for it.  This savvy salesman asked his boss, “If I front the money myself and get two referrals that turn into sales within the next thirty days, would the company pay for it then?”  The boss said, “Sure, if you come in with two sales, I’ll see to it that the company pays for the membership.”  Well, guess what?  This salesman, thus highly motivated, closed three sales and was working on four others at the end of the first thirty days.  He told me that his boss “gladly payed for the original membership, and recently paid to renew it.”  Whether you are self-employed or work for someone else, start looking for groups that refer you new business.

Do you have any stories about lucrative referrals you’ve received through joining a networking group?  If so, I’d love to them–please share in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

Networking and Friends

One of the strengths of a good networking group is that most of the members become friends.  And ironically, one of the weaknesses is that most of the members become friends.  It’s both a strength and a weakness.  Accountability becomes key in running a good network because friends don’t like to hold friends accountable.  But, people who truly understand networking are not going to have a problem with system and structure.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It can be dangerously easy for a networking group that meets regularly to become a coffee talk session with little or no networking going on.  That’s exactly what happens when a group loses sight of their purpose, focus, system, and structure–or never has any of those things to begin with.

People begin to make up their own agendas and the networking loses focus.  When you lose focus, the meetings become social.  Networking should be about business.  Of course there has to be a social aspect, but it’s really about business, commitment, and accountability.  People can be like water and tend to take the path of least resistance.  Without the proper framework in which to operate, the agenda becomes the topic of the day and it ends up being whatever the person running the group thinks the meeting should be about.  That sort of inconsistency over time is a problem for a networking group.

Even if you have a good, strong leader, at some point the person’s life will change or maybe he or she will simply get burned out.  The problem starts if there is no one else to teach.  Teaching is a leaky-bucket process.  You start with a whole bucket of information.  When that information is taught to someone else, some of that information leaks out and the people being taught only get that limited version of the information.  In turn, when that person teaches someone else, the material continues to get watered down based on their understanding and ability to articulate the material.

By the time you are in the third or fourth generation of people passing along the information, you only have about half a bucket remaining.  When the bucket of information gets low, people start putting in their own stuff.  Very rarely does the material improve over time with this process.

In short, it is a beautiful thing when people in a networking group become close friends–the key to making sure it doesn’t detract from the goals of building each other’s business through networking, however, is to ensure that no matter what type of networking group you’re in the group has a strong sense of purpose, a solid structure, and that each member is committed to carrying out the systems for networking which are already in place. 

So, how does your networking group maintain its focus and its commitment to its systematic networking practices (e.g., careful selection of leadership, effective training programs, etc.)?  I’d love to hear your thoughts–please share them in the comment forum below.  Thanks so much for your participation!

 

Networking: Men, Women, and Diversity

Charlie&Ivan-MvWIN

 

In this video (click on the graphic above to access the video), I speak with Charlie Lawson, networking expert and National Director of BNI® UK & Ireland, to unfold the differences between men and women in networking.  While men tend to be more transactional in the way they network, women are more relational and understanding these differences can really be an advantage when it comes to achieving success from your networking efforts.

During a survey of 12,000 people, it was found that those who are more relational gain more business and are overall more proficient networkers.  However, just because women are more likely to generate new business through referrals, this doesn’t mean that only they should have a place in networking groups.  In order to have the most successful networking group possible, there needs to be a great amount of diversity.  It’s ideal to have a blend of different people because that diversity is an important aspect of successful networking.

The more diverse a group is, the more connected it becomes.  When networking groups become more connected, deeper relationships are formed, ultimately leading to more referrals and greater success.

Do you or your networking group have any good tactics for seeking out a diverse array of professionals with whom to network?   If so, please share them in the comment forum below.  If not, make it your goal this week to come up with some ways to do so–you have nothing to lose and a whole lot of untapped potential for new referrals to gain! 

Seeking Engagement: A Critical Step for Networking Groups

Engagement involves a promise and an action.  In order to achieve success in your group of networking relationships, you and your relationships must promise to support one another and then take the actions necessary to fulfill that promise.

There are many ways that you can become engaged.  Have you taken the time to regularly meet with the people in your network?  Have you taken the time to educate them regularly on the key features 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 supply?  Have you taken the time to become educated on the key features of your networking relationships’ businesses so that you can do the same?

The higher the number of people in your network who are engaged in these activities, the more likely it is that the entire group will be generating more referrals.  The reason for this is a shared vision of success and a shared implementation of that vision.

Another way to be actively engaged and educated about each others’ businesses is to do regular and consistent meetings.  Over and over, I see that business owners who have regular one-to-one meetings with their business networking relationships tend to both give AND get more referrals.

Lastly, are you focusing on your “elevator pitch”?  The best way to ensure your referral sources are going to remember what you do is to focus on communicating your business to them by breaking it down into laser-specific elements.  Sharp-shoot your pitch, don’t shotgun it.  In each of your regular one-to-one meetings, talk about one key element, product, or benefit of what you do.

According to Psychology Today, research has found that people who are “actively engaged” in a business environment are “43% more productive” than those who are not.  Furthermore, they state that engagement includes “regular dialogue, quality of working relationships, perceptions of ethos and values of the organization, and recognition.”  There’s research behind my recommending reciprocal engagement between you and your referral partners.  In fact, it’s critical to your success–and theirs.

This week, think about new ways in which you can support your networking partners in order to promote engagement within your networking group.  I’d love to hear what ideas you come up with so please leave your thoughts in the comment forum below. Thanks!

 

 

Does Your Networking Group Put Enough Emphasis on Quality?

In order for a networking group to be successful and thus ensure optimum networking results for each of its members, the first thing the group needs to do is ensure they are embracing quality.

Embracing quality means being very selective about who you bring into the group.  The only people you should be inviting into the group are quality business professionals who have a positive, supportive attitude and are good at what they do.  If an individual does not meet these criteria, they should not be permitted into the group, period.

Effective networking is dependent on the quality of the relationships are developed within any given networking group, therefore it should go without saying that embracing quality also means building deep relationships among all referral partners in order to generate more referrals.  If your network is a mile wide and an inch deep, you won’t be getting the referrals you expect.

Another aspect of embracing quality is ensuring quality participation which means there absolutely must be accountability within the group.  One of the greatest strengths of a good network is that many of the members are friends.  One of the biggest weaknesses, however, is that . . . well . . . many of the members are friends; friends don’t generally like to hold other friends accountable.  You need to remember, as do your fellow networking group members, that the purpose of your group is not to be a friendship club–your purpose is to be a referral group and in order to generate quality referrals, all members of the group must hold each other accountable for maintaining quality participation.

If you expect the best from your fellow referral partners, you’ll get it.  Likewise, if you expect less than the best from them, you’re guaranteed to get that as well.  Why accept mediocrity when excellence is an option?  Accountability within a group will help all involved to achieve excellence.

The last part of embracing quality is applying the Givers Gain® philosophy within the networking group (i.e., when each member focuses on helping their fellow members achieve goals, gain referrals, and grow business, their fellow members will reciprocate by helping them back in the same way).  The more members who live this philosophy (particularly as it relates to referrals), the more successful a group will be.

How does your networking group currently excel at embracing quality?  Which aspects of embracing quality could your group stand to improve upon?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section and I’ll be more than happy to offer suggested solutions to any challenges your group may be having with putting enough emphasis on quality. Thanks!

Should Your Target Market Dictate the Networking Groups You Join?

The truth is, if you choose a networking group that focuses entirely on your target market, chances are you’ll be in a group of people who are a lot like you.  Sounds like a good thing, you say?  Well, it’s not.  A group that consists of a whole lot of people like you tends to hang out together in other settings and is likely to have a lot of the same contacts as you.  This limits the size of your network, and the diversity as well.  It’s good to have some people like you in  your group, of course, but it’s important to have  people who are not like you as well.   Never assume that someone who is in a totally different industry or social group or market from you can’t possibly know anybody you’d like to meet and do business with.  You never know who they know.

 

Even if you share a target market with many others in the group, you can’t really tell from the roster or by collecting business cards at the first meeting how effective they’ll be as referral sources.  You have to be in the group a while before you begin to know who they know and how likely they are to pass along good referrals.  Much of this information comes up in open networking before and after the meeting: “Tell me about some of your favorite clients.  Who do you like working with and why?  What kind of work do you like to do best?”  It takes weeks, sometimes months, to develop the kinds of relationships that bear fruit–and until then, you never know who they know.

Groups that are built primarily on a social model tend to be homogenous.  It’s simple human nature for people to cluster in groups according to age, education, income, profession, race, neighborhood, social status, religion, and so forth.  Hanging out with similar people makes it easier to carry on conversations, share similar experiences, gossip, and compare notes.  It does not tend to expose one to new experiences or new points of view, and it especially does not provide many opportunities to open new frontiers in business or marketing.

I’ve run across many people over the years who want to form business-to-business networks.  They think, I’m after this market, so therefore I need people just like me all around me.  So who do they get?  They get people who are just like themselves.  This includes people in businesses that are much like their own and who may not want to share their databases with others.  It includes some people who have the same kinds of contacts, sometimes even the exact same individuals.  Forming a group with such similar people for the purpose of generating referrals is usually a big mistake.  (Telling people it’s a mistake is a little like telling a boxer, “Lean into the punch!”  It’s counterintuitive.  Most people don’t believe it until you explain why.)

Never assume that someone who is in a totally different industry or social group or market from you can’t possibly know anybody you’d like to meet and do business with.  You never know who they know.

Networks tend to form naturally among clusters of people who are like each other and who know each other to varying degrees.  Your friends tend to be friends with one another.  However, if you want a powerful network, you obviously want different contacts and different kinds of contacts.  Diversity is key in a referral group, and not only in the classic sense of diversity–race, gender, religion, ethnicity–but diversity in types of businesses.  We’ve run into people who didn’t want to join a referral network because there was a painting contractor in the group who came to the meeting wearing overalls.  But in fact, painting contractors often have great contacts.  You never know whose houses they are painting or what kind of connections they’ve made.

A diverse set of personal contacts enables you to include connectors or linchpins  in your network–people who have overlapping interests or contacts and can easily and naturally link your group with other, different clusters of people.  These people,  according to Wayne Baker in his book Achieving Success through Social Capital” are the gateways.  They create shortcuts across ‘clumps’ of people.  The strongest networking groups are those that are diverse in many ways;  these are the ones that tend to have the most linchpins.   A master networker strives to become a linchpin between as many networks as possible.

You never know who someone knows.  Please share with me any experience that you’ve had with this concept.

 

Keeping the “Fun” in the Fundamentals

When it comes to business, having fun is something that’s almost never talked about–it’s almost like people think fun and business are two completely unrelated, and mutually exclusive things.  However, I don’t share that opinion at all.  I definitely think it’s important to have fun in business; in fact, over time I’ve learned that having fun is something businesses and networking groups alike need to do in order to truly enjoy lasting success.

In this video, I talk about how important it is to keep the “fun” in the fundamentals.  To sum it up, if you don’t have fun, it’s easy to lose track of why you are where you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing–it’s easy to lose your excitement.  Once you lose your excitement for something, your passion for it is gone and it’s very hard to be successful at anything if you’re not passionate about it.  This is why it’s so important to have a good time in whatever you’re doing–business, networking, or otherwise.

After watching the video, please share some of the ways you (when it comes to your business and/or networking) or your networking group (when it comes to your networking meetings) keep the fun in the fundamentals.  In the spirit of fun, I’ll review all the comments next Friday (3/29) and I’ll send a surprise gift to the ten people whose tactics for keeping the fun in the fundamentals were the most striking, impressive, and creative.  Thanks and I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

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!

Have a Positive and Supportive Attitude

The First Law of Notable Networking: Have a Positive and Supportive Attitude

Good networking involves providing a positive and supportive environment to other business people.  Remember this: Notable Networking is predicated upon the concept that Givers Gain®

If you freely give business to others, they will give business to you.  This concept is based on the age-old notion that “what goes around, comes around.”  If I give business to you, you’ll give business to me, and we will both do better as a result.  Networking is like a savings account: if you keep investing wisely, you can draw upon it when you need it.  One enthusiastic networker who belongs to a formal networking group told me, “The longer I’m in the group, the better I get at networking and the more referrals I get.  In addition, it seems that the more referrals I get, the higher the percentage that I close!  By developing long-term relationships, I am gaining the trust of the other members, which makes it easier to receive and close the referrals that are passed to me.”

A positive, supportive attitude also includes the way you present yourself to other people.  Everyone likes to do business with an enthusiastic optimist.  If you join a networking group, remain focused on the reason you’re there.  I see far too many people go to networks and get caught up in the irrelevant nitpicking: “The food’s no good,” “The speaker was mediocre,” “This room’s not very nice,” and so on.

With the quibblers, I share this anecdote: An airline attendant once responded to a passenger’s complaints about the quality of his dinner by asking him, “When you go to a French restaurant, do you usually order an airline ticket?”  The same rationale applies to networking meetings.  The quality of the food and the speaker should be secondary to the quality of the contacts you are making.  Don’t lose sight of your purpose.

It’s not Net-Sit or Net-Eat, it’s Net-WORK!  If you want your network to work for you, then you have to work your network in a positive and supportive manner.

In many ways, the First Law of Notable Networking involves more than attitude; it’s a way of life and a good way to do business.  When you constantly and consciously keep other people in your mind, they will do the same for you.

I’ll be posting about the Second and Third Laws of Notable Networking over the next couple of weeks so be sure to check back if you want to learn even more about how to succeed as a networker.

*Can you think of a person in your network who exemplifies the First Law of Notable Networking?  If so, take this opportunity to carry out the First Law yourself and showing them your support by recognizing that person in the comments section below.  Tell us who they are and what they do that makes them such a shining example of this First Law of Notable Networking.

Grow Your Network by Making People Feel Welcome

In this brief video, Australian networking master Paul Lomas shares some ideas with me about making people feel welcome when they arrive at networking meetings and events. He also gives a very useful tip on how to give a great response when someone asks how you are doing in order to create an opportunity for positive, genuine connections.

The video emphasizes the importance of the visitor’s experience to a networking group and how it can very significantly shape their choice regarding whether or not to return to that group.  Sometimes it can be much too easy to get comfortable in networking groups and neglect visitors.  For that reason, I urge you to watch this short video because it’s a great reminder of just how important it is to genuinely make visitors welcome in order to grow your network and make your networking group as successful as it can possibly be.

Do you have any good tips or stories about how you or others in your networking group make others feel welcome?  Please share them in the comments forum so others can learn from your tactics for successfully meeting, greeting, and making visitors feel at home.

Can’t Do or Won’t Do?

People often ask me how they can get someone in their networking group to take action and participate at a higher level in the group.  I love this question and I have the perfect answer for this . . .

Have someone in a leadership position within the networking group go to the person and ask them: “How can we help you do XYZ more effectively?” Then – listen to their answer.  Their answer will almost always be either a “can’t do” answer or a “won’t do” answer.  The person will either explain why they are having difficulty with the situation because they “don’t know how to” address it effectively, or they will give an answer that illustrates that they “don’t really want to” do this for some reason or another.

The “can’t do” people – you should help. We have all  been a “can’t do” at one time or another.  I didn’t know how to network before I started in this field.  I had to learn how to network.  It’s our job in a networking organization to teach people who want to learn but don’t know how.

It’s the “won’t do” people that are the real problem. They understand that they are not performing – they just have excuses about why they aren’t willing to do what needs to be done.  Frankly, these are the people that need to be removed from a networking group.

Have you seen “can’t do” and/or “won’t do” people in networking groups before?  How did you handle them?  Leave a comment and note that protecting yourself by changing the names of the guilty is always a good idea. 😉

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