How to Make Online Networking Work for You

How to Make Online Networking Work for Youstring(42) "How to Make Online Networking Work for You"

While anyone with a computer or phone can access social media sites, getting results from online networking takes forethought.

Consider your personal and time management preferences. Do you like computer-based interactions? Do you enjoy spending time online? How much time can you realistically devote to intentional networking? If online living isn’t your thing, that’s okay. There is no right or wrong, just degrees of preference.

Online networking is a means to an end

A little time online can be leveraged to great effect when you use that time for connecting with new contacts or doing follow-up with people you have already met. As I talk about in my book, Networking Like a Pro 2nd Edition, it is important to determine in advance how many hours per day or week you are truly willing to devote to online networking.

How do you prefer to use that time?

  • Keeping your profiles updated
  • Contributing to discussions in online groups
  • Posting to your blog
  • Reading and responding to comments
  • Which online networking platforms are best for you?

Pick the ones where your target market hangs out and is active. This will ensure that you are connecting with the people who are potential clients and customers. As with any kind of business networking, your objective is to develop social capital.

Your online interactions

Learn the difference between interactions that move you and your online community members toward productive relationship building, and those that simply suck time and energy.

If someone asks a question that you can answer, that is an opportunity to be helpful while displaying your knowledge. You can build professional credibility by sharing information about your expertise without giving a sales pitch. Be careful, though, when comments veer into opinion; an offhand remark may go viral and result in unintended consequences.

Will your investment of time, energy and caring on behalf of other networkers be reciprocated in ways that you find meaningful? Only you can define what meaningful means to you, and only you can decide whether your interactions and time investment are productive.

No matter how many sites you are active on, be very clear with yourself – and with others – about your motives and goals. Stay positive, informative, and value oriented. When done right, with proper respect and consistency, social media can be a legitimate tool in branding and raising the awareness people have of you in the business community.

networking plan

Three Questions About Your Networking Planstring(42) "Three Questions About Your Networking Plan"

As a time-strapped businessperson, how do you figure out which networking events to attend and which you should let go by the wayside? A networking plan can help you decide which events are worth your time. Here are three questions for you to answer to create a networking plan that will work for you.

Who are my best prospects?

Many business professionals cannot clearly define their best prospects. This is why they find themselves running all over town trying to attend every networking event that comes down the pike. To determine who your “ideal prospects” are, ask these questions about your past clients:

  • Who are your very best customers?
  • What industries are they in?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • Are your customers businesses or consumers?

For example, the best prospect for an owner of a vacuum center is NOT anyone who needs a vacuum cleaner. Instead, their ideal customer is clearly defined with specifics:

  • A woman
    • with children, pets, or both
  • Lives in a very nice neighborhood
  • Drives a Lexus, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, or Infiniti
  • Concerned with the health of her family
  • Purchases quality products
    • not someone shopping for a bargain-basement deal.

Why is it important to be this specific? Because a particular person is more likely to pop into your head. Once you’ve put together a profile of your past clients, pick up the phone and run it by a few trusted friends and colleagues. Those who are close to you often have insights into patterns that you tend to overlook.

Where can I meet my best prospects?

If you’re trying to meet more small business owners:

You’ll want to spend time at your local Chamber of Commerce, a local business association, or with a referral group. Not only do these groups have exactly the type of audience you want to meet, but also with referral groups, there’s typically a system in place that helps you – help others to get more referrals for you.

If your business is geared more towards consumers:

Become involved with your kids’ events—Little League, Girl Scouts, or your church’s youth group—is another good way to meet the right people.

Who, exactly, do I want to meet?

The greater the number of networks you are connected to, the greater the chance that there’s a short chain of contacts between you and anyone you’d care to meet. All you have to do is recognize that fact and ask a few people a specific question or two. The answers will either put you in direct contact with a prospect or lead you in the direction of the networking events you need to attend. Even if you can’t name the specific people you want to meet, the better you can describe them, the greater the chance that you’ll get to meet your ideal contact. The secret ingredient in this principle is specificity.

The way to meet the unknown contact is to be as detailed as possible without being too exclusive. You can do this by starting your question with: “Who do you know who…”, then complete the sentence with specifics:

  • “Who do you know who is a new parent?”
  • “Who do you know who belongs to an organization that builds houses for the homeless?”

By asking for a particular kind of contact, you focus the other person’s attention on details that remind them of a specific person. Finally, remember that it’s important to surround yourself with quality business contacts since the best way to your ideal contact very often is through someone you already know.

Sample networking plan for a downtown realtor:

  • My best prospects are :
    • First-time homebuyers
    • People interested in buying a downtown condo or home
  • I can meet my best prospects at:
    • Downtown networking events
    •  Young professionals’ networking events
  • I want to meet:
    • Who do you know who is thinking about moving out of their apartment and into a house?
    • Who do you know who is living in an apartment accumulating disposable income?

It’s just a matter of developing a networking plan that puts you in contact with the right people. That’s exactly what the three questions above will help you do. However, you must take action on your networking plan to achieve your goals.

purposeful meal

Using a Purposeful Meal as a Networking Opportunitystring(51) "Using a Purposeful Meal as a Networking Opportunity"

So, what exactly is a purposeful meal meeting? A purposeful meal meeting is nothing more than a meeting that includes a meal and a specific, meaningful purpose. And the specific purpose I want to talk about today is networking. These meetings are strategic and results-oriented with a specific purpose for the meal together.

A Purposeful Meal Provides High Value For Your Invested Time

  • It’s not a break from work. It’s a way to build a strong relationship with each other.
  • It’s not a time to have three martinis. It’s a time to teach three things about your business.
  • It’s not a romantic date. It’s a way to introduce your colleague to a potential new client.
  • It’s not about critiquing new restaurants. It’s a way to help a colleague solve their problems.

Let’s begin by considering the average workweek of five days. There are three main meals that could be eaten per day. Barring the usual hindrances to daily scheduling, this gives you 15 opportunities each week to have a purposeful meal meeting. That’s 780 opportunities in a year. Now, dining with 780 people could not only put a hole in your pocket, but it could tear a hole in some of your personal relationships as well. Let’s be realistic…imagine what your significant other would begin to think if instead of eating the majority of your meals with them, you were out eating each meal with a different person. You certainly don’t want to stay away from home so much that your children and/or pets no longer recognize you. So, let’s say half of your meals are spent eating with your family-you still have an estimated 390 opportunities for purposeful meal meetings.

Keith Ferrazzi: Build Trust by Breaking Bread

This level of networking increases his productivity and helps him connect with people from different parts of his community. Ferrazzi believes that his strongest links have been forged at the table. He has learned how powerful the art of throwing a dinner party can be in creating memories and strengthening relationships. Something magical and companionable happens when friends break bread together.

Ferrazzi is quick to mention, however, that if you continue to have dinner parties with the same people, your circle will never grow. His solution is to identify and invite “anchor tenants” to your party. These are people who are related to your core group but who know different people, have experienced different things, and thus have much to share. They tend to be the people who have had a positive influence on your friends’ lives. It’s akin to inviting the CEO to the manager’s table, as Ferrazzi says. Soon, other executives will want to be there.

More Than Just a Dinner Party

I had the opportunity to experience one of Keith’s networking parties firsthand, and the anchor guest that night was the legendary author Gore Vidal. Providing the entertainment was America’s oldest collegiate a cappella group, the Whiffenpoofs of Yale!

Not all of us will be able to get a celebrity of Gore Vidal’s status and the Whiffenpoofs at our networking party, but I’m guessing that Keith didn’t have them at his first party either. However, the strategy is sound, and I encourage you to try out the concept as a way of building your visibility in the community. Keith has paid close attention to how a meal can most appropriately be leveraged for a business networking opportunity. The primary focus should always be on developing the relationship. Learning about each other, helping one another with problems, and giving of ourselves – that’s what defines a purposeful meal meeting.

Why not start now – begin to plan some purposeful meal meetings or dinner parties where you can make memorable beneficial connections. Do you have any stories about purposeful meal meetings or dinner parties where you made memorable, beneficial connections?  If so, I’d love to hear your story–please share your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!

Networking

Networking In-Person, Online, or a Blend?string(41) "Networking In-Person, Online, or a Blend?"

In 2017, I was sitting in the back of a senior leadership meeting for BNI.  The group was talking about the future of the organization and what we saw ahead of us as opportunities and challenges.  Someone from the group looked over at me and said, “you’re the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer, what do you see for the future of the company?”  I stood in the room and boldly said that because of advancements in mixed reality and holographic technologies, I thought the future of networking was likely to be online.  While I thought that would raise eyebrows – instead, it raised voices.  “No way,” was the overwhelming chorus of voices in response to my proclamation. The pushback was almost complete (with the exception of a few of the millennials in the room).

“Really?” asked one incredulous participant.  “Really, you’re the Founder of the world’s largest in-person networking organization and you honestly think that we will transition to online!?”   “Never,” said another person in the room. “I can’t believe that you would think that.” 

I re-learned a valuable lesson that day – when you have a bold vision, don’t just blurt it out.  Instead, ease people into that vision.  People aren’t receptive to massive change at first, they need to be eased into that change whenever possible [see The Cat’s on The Roof blog to see how to do that].

Recognizing the error of my ways, over the next year I began to talk at company events about disruption and how companies could become complacent in the delivery of their services and how they sometimes don’t see the train coming down the tracks at them. I spoke about Kodak, Sears, and Blockbuster as examples of what happens if a company is complacent with their operations.  I hoped that these stories would get them thinking about how we might be disrupted if we were not careful.  I later wrote about this type of disruption on Entrepreneur.com after I had been talking about it for well over a year.

In December 2018, I wrote another article for Entrepreneur about the change that I saw coming in networking organizations, a change like the one I suggested a year earlier that caused such a vocal reaction when I brought it up.  I re-introduced this concept more than a year after I first blurted it out because I felt that I had laid the groundwork more effectively over the previous year.  It was my formal prediction in this article that the future of face-to-face meetings would be online.  Over time, I referred people in my organization to these two articles to help prepare them mentally for what I believed to be coming. Granted, I foresaw this development because of the emergence of technology and not a virus, but I saw it coming, nonetheless.

In mid-January of 2020, I was at a mastermind event where we were doing an exercise lead by Kian Gohar, Founder of Geolab. It was his “Moonshot Exercise.”   In it, he asked us to create a vision that we wanted to be embraced within our organization.  My vision was that by the end of 2020, the senior management of our company would see the inevitable fact that the future of networking would be, at least in part, online.  Little did I know that by the end of that very month, we would embrace that vision.

Credit needs to go to the CEO of BNI, Graham Weihmiller, who saw that Covid was going to be a far bigger problem in the world than anyone else in our organization thought (or people from most organizations for that matter).   By the end of January, he had transitioned some of BNI in Asia to online.  By February, he had transitioned much of Europe and by March of 2020, he, the franchisees, members, and the Global Support Team, had transitioned the entire organization to online.  This was no small feat.  In January of 2020, the company had 9,700 networking groups that were meeting in-person, every week!  By March of 2020, we had over 9,700 groups meeting online every week!  This was a pivot of monumental proportions.

Since that time, the company has added more than 400 additional chapters bringing the total number of networking groups to over 10,100 world-wide.  Virtually all of these groups were meeting online for most of 2020.  What seemed completely unfathomable to most people a couple of years earlier became the norm in just two years.

The question now within the company is – “what does the future hold for meetings going forward?”  The answer to that question has not been settled but it is under discussion.  That process has begun with a survey of over 2,300 members from around the world asking them if they would like their networking meetings to be:

1) In Person Only,

2) Online Only, or

3) A Blend of Online and In Person Meetings.

As you can see in the results below, one third of the participants of this survey wanted to go back completely to “In Person” Meetings.  However, 16% wanted to stick with “Online Meetings Only, and a whopping (considering the attitude just two years prior) of almost 51% of the survey respondents were in favor of a blend of meeting both in-person, and online.

Networking

What was unthinkable to most leaders in the organization just a few years earlier was now very possible for two thirds of the people surveyed by the organization.

Because of the continuous advancements in technology, the move to online networking meetings was inevitable.  The spread of Covid simply expedited the imminent disruption that lay ahead.

Lead the disruption or be disrupted.  That is the mantra that entrepreneurs must embrace to survive in the 21st century.  For networking groups, that means that it is time to embrace the inevitable transition to meeting online.  That said, I do believe that a blended approach is perfect at this time. For most businesspeople, meeting in person and shaking someone’s hand (when it is safe for us to do that again) has no online equivalent.

What are your thoughts about these ideas?

Has online networking been effective for you and your business?

The Great Acceleration

The Great Accelerationstring(22) "The Great Acceleration"

As many parts are of the world are coming out of “The Great Pause”, they enter the next phase. I am going to call this, “The Great Acceleration”. Businesses are restarting very soon in these areas. However, things will probably be different for them post-pandemic. Here are three topics I discuss in this video.

“The Great Acceleration” 

Here are my answers to the three questions that I was asked recently while interviewed on a morning television show:V

1) How has networking changed forever after the last year that we experienced?

The technology that exists today saved a lot of businesses all around the world. We learned, during the past year, that we can network online almost as well as we did in person. I do not believe networking has changed forever. It will take time to re-adjust. However, I think that a few years from now, the world will look very much like it did before 2020.  

2) Will face-to-face networking ever be a thing again?

Because of evolving technology, I believe business networking will become a hybrid of online and face-to-face. Online networking helped to keep old friends and business contacts connected last year. Online networking is more convenient. However, it lacks the ability to make a personal connection and you’re not able to read body language as well.

Someday, when we have the technology, we might have mixed-reality meetings or holographic meetings. If so, I want to be Obi-Wan Kenobi.

3) In the meantime, what can people do to make their career and business networking more impactful?

  • Use “Breakout Rooms” when you’re networking online with a large group to have deeper conversations with a couple of the attendees.
  • When having an online one-to-one, have food or beverages delivered to the other person ahead of time to share together while apart during your online meeting.
  • Use the G.A.I.N.S. exchange to share your goals, accomplishments, interests, networks, and skills. Plus, have a meaningful conversation.

Today, more than ever, you need your network. You need people around you to help and support you. Givers Gain® is a powerful philosophy that is focused on cooperation and collaboration. It’s an approach that involves helping other people over time, and by helping them, they will help you in return. Your network can help you weather almost any storm. You can get frozen by fear, or focused by fear. During “The Great Acceleration”, your “hybrid” networking is your beacon of hope in a sea of fear.

your C.P.A.

Do Not Allow Your C.P.A. To Ruin Your Businessstring(46) "Do Not Allow Your C.P.A. To Ruin Your Business"

We are living in a world more connected than ever. However, this hyperconnectivity can create situations when your C.P.A. can effect your business. Working from home can easily lead to a state of “Continuous Partial Attention” (your C.P.A.). This occurs when people are only partially paying attention to others during their online networking or Zoom meetings.  There are some definite pitfalls in our hyper-connected world when we are not giving our full attention to others. Your business relationships and networking may be affected because of your C.P.A. in these three situations.

Monitor your C.P.A. when attending your online networking meetings

Continuous partial attention can hamper your relationship-building efforts – on both a personal and professional level. When attending an online function of any type, it is becoming increasingly common to find people typing away during the meeting. They remain connected to their emails and social media networks during their meeting. This desire can dilute our efforts by driving us to stay “live” online with other things instead of with the person in front of us. You can easily watch them on camera not paying attention to the meeting. Even worse, they fall asleep in their recliner during the online Zoom meeting with their camera live for all to see until they are awoken by another chapter member calling their phone.

Keep your C.P.A. away from your phone 

Speaking of phones. We have probably all experienced being in conversation with someone at an in-person networking function and getting pinged during the conversation. This is happening much more now during online meetings. When we take our attention off what is happening in front of our nose to take a look at what is happening on our phone, we lose the connection with the person who is presenting. We will not remember this part of the conversation well, if at all. And we send a subtle message to this person that he or she does not matter as much as the various pings coming in on our mobile device do.

Our desire to connect and be connected is one of the strengths of business networking. Therefore, when doing online networking, or when we return to in-person events, we will want to effectively be connecting with others. Over the years, I saw people many times on their phones texting during networking meetings, such as at a BNI chapter meeting, a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, or even a gala dinner event.

Be honest: whom do you greet first when you get up in the morning — your spouse, kids, the dog, OR your virtual community? Do you reach for your phone before you even throw your legs out of bed to get up? I have found myself doing that. Consider waiting to look at your mobile phone until after you are ready to receive messages. For me, I wait to turn it on until after I am up, have exercised, showered, and had my breakfast. Furthermore, I think social media is great. I use it regularly to stay in touch and build relationships. But knowing when to focus on your networking and not your phone is extremely important in this digital age.

Do not allow your C.P.A. to distract you when working online

Most of us work from our computers, laptops, or tablets with notifications switched on. Our email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Teams, and WeChat accounts are sending us notifications. Across your screen, they distract you with their messages. “Look at me! Someone retweeted you! Someone wants to be your Friend!” Even people who do not have ADD are working in a state of attention deficit due to the distraction all these notifications cause.

It is very easy to lose track of whom you have just followed up with. You end up sending your follow-up email twice. You reference something you were discussing with someone else. Worse yet, you send an email to the wrong person entirely. (Who hasn’t done that?) Continuous partial attention keeps you from being alert, attentive, and focused and can hamper your post-event follow up not to mention your day-to-day activities.

Don’t allow your C.P.A. to ruin your business. Continuous partial attention can hamper your efforts to build profitable business relationships with the people you want to connect with. I believe a price is being paid by how this constant connectedness is affecting our real-time relationships. The truth is that our brains are not capable of multi-tasking. Brains don’t work like a computer, which can have many programs running simultaneously. Our minds have to switch among tasks. Some of us can task-switch extremely quickly, seemingly multi-tasking, but we are not actually multi-tasking. Others of us task-switch with a little more difficulty, making it extremely challenging to really pay sustained attention to anything when we try to multi-task.

cannot remember

I’m sorry, I cannot remember your namestring(40) "I’m sorry, I cannot remember your name"

What do you do when you meet someone and you cannot remember their name? That can be embarrassing. I have observed this many times over the years during networking events. I have also observed the different ways others have dealt with forgetting someone’s name. Some have just faked it by engaging in a conversation hoping to get a clue. They try to remember where the other person was from or how they knew them. On the other hand, I have heard people come right out and say, “Hey, I’m sorry I forgot your name” or “I’m sorry I do not remember where you’re from”.

In this video, I share a story from one of my blog readers which describes a scenario of this very nature and I answer his question of what I would have done if I were in the same sticky situation.

What not to do when you cannot remember a name

If it happens to you, I recommend that you do not say, “I’m sorry, I forgot your name” or “I don’t remember where you’re from”. I have found that people sometimes take it personally that you can’t remember them. No reason to embarrass yourself and embarrass them because you don’t know who they are. They might begin to avoid you because you did not recognize them earlier.

Finally, you do not want to say, “Nice to meet you”. Even if you do not remember meeting the person, they clearly know you, so you are most likely not “meeting them” for the first time.

What to do instead

When you forget someone’s name, I recommend saying, “Hi, good to see you”, then strike up a simple conversation to help you remember based upon the current situation or event you are attending. Starting a dialogue is a great way to shake up the gray matter in your head to try to remember who they are. If you still cannot remember after conversing a while, it’s time to stop trying and move along. Before leaving tell them, “Hey, it was nice to see you again. Gotta run. Talk to you again next time”.

It can be challenging to remember names, especially if you’re an avid networker. Years ago, I was told about a four-step process that will help you to remember people’s names–and it actually works!

OK, not remembering someone’s name has happened to me too. Saying “good to see you”, then engaging in a dialogue is a great approach to remember their name. If you absolutely do not want to use this technique, a fall-back approach can be one that someone once shared with me: “Sorry, I’m having a total ‘Senior Moment’ and I don’t recall where we’ve met”. Feel free to use that if you do not feel very brave with the “good to see you” approach. However, be prepared for some bruised feelings.

If you’ve ever been approached by someone and drawn a complete blank trying to remember their name, or even where you know them from, you know how awkward and embarrassing that situation can be. Finally, always wear your name badge when networking in person so that the people you meet can easily remember your name.

Zoom

The 12x12x12 Zoom Rulestring(22) "The 12x12x12 Zoom Rule"

What is the 12x12x12 Zoom rule? In 2010, I introduced the original 12x12x12 rule when attending in-person networking events in my book, “Networking Like a Pro”. Ten years later, with all of us using our computers for online networking, I adapted the 12x12x12 rule in 2020 for Zoom.

What do you look like 12 feet around you?

Since everyone is broadcasting from home these days, it is important to pay attention to the setting of your personal meeting location. Make sure what people will see behind you is as professional as possible. Remove the visible clutter around you and close the door to keep your kids, or cats, from interrupting the call. If you are using a virtual background, choose something related to your industry. However, keep the background photo professional, like bookshelves or an office setting. Do not use a tropical beach background, unless you work on a beach or as a travel agent. Remember, your background says a lot about you. Hang a solid-colored green sheet behind you as an easy green screen when using a virtual Zoom background.

What do you look like 12 inches away from your web camera?

Have you dressed appropriately for the meeting? I mean, are you FULLY DRESSED for the meeting with both a professional top and bottom? Too many stories have been shared on the TV news about people getting up from their chairs and being caught in pajama pants, athletic shorts, or unfortunately even less. I’ve been known to wear sweat pants on camera but never wear something (or not wear enough) that would end up with you on the TV news. Make sure your hair is combed and you are not eating on camera. Plus, be prepared with a pen and notepad to take notes.

What are the first 12 words out of your mouth on Zoom?

This is the most important point. Have you thought about what you are going to say to someone else at a networking event? The worst time to think about what you want to say is when you are saying it. Think about concise ways you can get your points across: what you want to say about your business, your target market, the benefits of your product or service, etc. Finally, use a microphone so that everyone can clearly hear you

Before you log in to your next online networking event or Zoom meeting, remember these tips, and verify that you are following the 12x12x12 Zoom rule. 

Ice Breaker

Small Talk: The Mighty Ice Breakerstring(34) "Small Talk: The Mighty Ice Breaker"

One of the most important aspects of networking is the small talk that occurs at networking functions. The small talk acts as an ice breaker to open up the initial conversation between strangers. This initial conversation is important. It is the first opportunity to grow a mutual connection that may lead to future referrals.

Locubrevisphobia

This big word is the fear of making small talk, often resulting in the sufferer avoiding social and networking events. Many people simply dread the thought of having to carry on conversations with people they do not know. It is easy to label these people as shy. However, only a small minority of people are too shy to enjoy talking with others. Most people are not afraid to talk; they are just intimidated by the task of finding something to talk about.

For this reason, business owners need to stay on top of pop culture and current events. The latest issues and stories in the news are great ways to break the ice and help you find common ground with a person you may never have met before and with whom you may not have much in common. But with the media explosion, it’s increasingly difficult to have a firm grasp on water-cooler talk, particularly when it comes to conversations with people in different age brackets. So, how do you start — and maintain — a conversation at a networking or other event with someone you don’t know at all?

Just ask questions as an ice breaker

This sounds simple because it is. A great way to get people to talk is to ask a few “feeder” questions that will help you learn what the other person is interested in. Simply hone in on that subject. You don’t have to know anything about the topic to converse about the topic. You just have to know enough to ask the questions.

It’s easier you think. Online news sites have set up their pages with easy-to-read convenient categories, such as Top News, Sports, Entertainment, and Tech. Either at night or first thing in the morning, just take a few minutes to read the headlines, and maybe the first one to two sentences. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about “what’s hot” from just a cursory glance. You have enough information to start asking questions and conversing with someone new.

Make the other person feel like an expert

I still remember when I realized the value of asking questions and letting someone answer them. I was flying for business, and just before taking off, I struck up a conversation with the person seated next to me. I’m not sure what started the conversation, but I wasn’t familiar with the business he was in, and I asked a question. That question led to another, then another until the end of that two-hour flight. I realized that he had “small talked” during the entire flight. We made a good connection, I had learned something new, and, as we were gathering our belongings, he complimented me for being a good conversationalist.

A savvy networker, Susan RoAne, reads the sports section in her newspaper from cover to cover every single day, even though she has zero interest in sports. “Why on earth would you subject yourself to this?” I asked her, as I am admittedly not a sports fan, either. She replied, “My networking functions are primarily attended by men. I don’t want to stay on the sidelines while important conversations are going on, conversations that invariably start with a discussion about last night’s game.”

Take a few minutes each day to browse enough headlines to arm you with enough knowledge of current events, pop culture — and yes, even sports. Use this knowledge as an ice breaker to ask questions and get conversations flowing. Using small talk is simply a good networking strategy. As a bonus, you’ll learn a lot from these conversations you might never have learned otherwise.

elephant

How to Network with the Elephant in the Roomstring(44) "How to Network with the Elephant in the Room"

Experienced networkers understand that networking is not always a perfect 100% satisfaction guaranteed activity. A member can sometimes have a problem with another person in their networking group. However, instead of talking with this person to resolve the problem, the member avoids this person due to their personal discomfort, and the unresolved problem can grow into a larger situation. Now, the situation has created “the elephant in the room”, which could cause drama within the networking group.

Drama can occur in any group where wide varieties of people and personalities interact. This is also true in business networking groups that meet weekly for in-person or online meetings. If the physical avoidance between these two members is obvious to others at the networking meeting, the negativity from the situation could be felt by others in the group as “the elephant in the room”, potentially causing drama within the group.

What is “the elephant in the room”?

The elephant in the roomis defined as “a metaphorical idiom for an enormous topic or controversial issue that is obvious or that everyone knows about but no one mentions or wants to discuss because it makes at least some of them uncomfortable”. The member, due to discomfort, ignored the initial problem with the other person and avoided them during the group meetings. Therefore, the unresolved problem grew into a larger situation that became very obvious to the other members of the networking group. The initial problem between these two members evolved into “the elephant in the room” for the entire networking group. So, how do you tame and remove the elephant? Here are three of the most common situations why a networking group might have “the elephant in the room” and my suggestions for gracefully taming each of them:

Elephant #1: Poor Referrals

The reason for joining a networking group is to build strong relationships with the members to refer business to one another. Normally, this is a win-win for the member receiving the referral because their business grows with a new client, as well as a win for the member who gave the referral because of Givers Gain®. However, a small percentage of referrals may be poor referrals. They take up time but do not result in closed business. When something goes wrong and a member receives a poor referral, this can create the first elephant.

People who are experiencing a problem with a fellow member tend to talk about the problem to other members instead of talking directly with the fellow member that they are experiencing the problem with. This can actually make the problem worse.

Talk with the member giving you poor referrals.

In most of these situations, nothing was wrong with the actual referral. Usually, the problem was simply caused by miscommunication. Do not perpetuate problems by avoiding open, honest communication with others. Take the time to talk about it in a non-confrontational way. Talking right away will avoid making these awkward situations even worse.

Elephant #2: Personal Disagreements

Networking would be so much easier if people were not involved. Although networking is all about building relationships with people, personal disagreements are inevitable and problems occur. Avoiding each other due to discomfort and not talking with each other to resolve the disagreement creates the second elephant.

Focus on the solution rather than on the problem.

If you only focus on the problem, you become an expert on the problem. All too often, when facing a problem, the first thing we tend to do is focus on the negative situation. This tends to move us further from finding a way to fix it and that does not help the problem.

You must begin to start focusing on ways to resolve the situation by focusing on solutions. Rather than react, take the time to fully analyze the problem then make a list of possible solutions. When we think of ways to overcome our problems, we are prepared for the next problem down the road. Often, all that is needed is honest and direct communication between the two members to solve the disagreement.

Elephant #3: Breakups Between Members

Networking groups tend to attract like-minded people. Sometimes they bring two of their members together for more than just business. Over the years, I have known many couples that dated, fell in love, got married, and started a family together all because they first met at their networking group. On the other hand, this can quickly create the third elephant if the relationship ends badly and the two members remain in the same group after the messy breakup.

Take the higher ground and continue to network.

Given the value of your network, it is worth working through those feelings if you find yourself in a breakup with another member of your networking group. Do not lose your network of valuable referral sources you have built. The more professional you remain following the breakup, the higher your regard will be by your group. Therefore, remember not to talk badly about the other person or discuss the breakup situation with other members of the group.

Whatever the reason, many people involved in business networking may one day face a situation with “the elephant in the room”. Remember not to focus on growing the problem but on growing your business. Do not burn bridges with people in your group by avoiding them or the uncomfortable situation. Instead, talk to them about your concerns. You never know what the future will bring. You might end up being friends and valued referral partners with the former elephant.

definition of networking

My New Definition of Networkingstring(31) "My New Definition of Networking"

One word that has had multiple definitions over the years concerning business growth is networking. For some business owners, networking was defined as compiling a huge database of names, usually by collecting business cards. Other entrepreneurs defined networking as the opportunity to meet people and personally prospect for business. Still, other businesspeople defined networking as nothing more than schmoozing and boozing, with no specific intention except to be seen and socialize. Therefore, I needed to consolidate these various thoughts on the definition of networking based on my experiences into one definition of networking:

“The process of developing and using your contacts to increase your business, enhance your knowledge, expand your sphere of influence, or serve your community”

This definition stood the test of time for many years. However, times have changed. During the past nine months, business people have survived the most challenging economic time since the Great Depression. I realize that my definition of networking needs to evolve to reflect our changing times and business climate. There are some truths to retain from my original definition of networking. However, a few concepts need updating.

“Using” updates to “Activates”

The word “using” sounds rather harsh with the negative concept of “using” someone for something. However, when one “activates” others, the engagement becomes interactive and inspiring to take action together. The word “using” implies an action like a one-way street, while the word “activating” implies an interaction like a major two-way highway.

In these changing times, we need to be more inspiring and engaging when networking. Entrepreneurs who “activate” their network have higher networking results than those that are “using” someone.

“Contacts” updates to “Relationships”

The word “contacts” is an impersonal term for the names in one’s database. However, we cultivate genuine and authentic positive “relationships” with the people we feel are important to include in our network. Our “relationships” are something that we build together over time.

Networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. Commit to mastering what it takes to efficiently and effectively harness the potential in your “relationship crops” and you will reap a bountiful harvest of mutually satisfying relationships and sustainable growth in your business.

Includes “Online Networking”

In 2013, I wrote a blog about the beginning of online networking and recommended the importance of integrating this type of networking into your overall referral marketing strategy. I did not predict back then that seven years later the business world would be experiencing “The Great Pause” and we would all be working from home.

In 2020, in-person “face-to-face” networking came to a halt because of the current health situation. Many governments banned indoor group events. Even if you cannot go to your usual places to network face-to-face with others at mixers, meetings, or social events, you can still take action and build up your networking online.

Online networking provides many ways to connect with others, even if not face-to-face. In BNI, back in March 2020, we switched all 9,500 of our BNI chapters from weekly in-person meetings to online Zoom meetings as we embraced online networking. The goal is still the same as with in-person networking.  We focus on developing strong relationships with others and activate them to inspire others to support our businesses.

Online networking works! Our BNI members have already helped their fellow BNI members generate over $11.7 billion US dollars in revenue so far in 2020, resulting from over 8.6 million referrals exchanged. Therefore, amid these challenging times, referrals generated from online networking are helping many businesses stay open.

My new definition of networking is “The process of developing and activating your relationships to increase your business, enhance your knowledge, expand your sphere of influence, or serve the community”.

The changes may seem small, yet they are significant. I needed to modify my definition of networking with these updates. I believe this is a better representation of the concept of networking these days. Successful networking is about helping others as a way of growing your business. The people you help are more willing to help you or connect you to the people they know. Through networking, you can build a referral-based business by activating your relationships either online or in-person.

By simply changing a few words in my original definition of networking, I created what I believe is the true meaning of effective networking. My revised definition of networking is congruent with my style of networking. The same style of networking that BNI teaches our members every day. We know after 36 years of changing people’s lives that networking works. Your local BNI community can give you, and the people that you know, the support you need to thrive. Today, more than ever, you need to be networking. Today, more than ever, you need BNI.

Networking Fundamentals

Networking Fundamentalsstring(23) "Networking Fundamentals"

What is the one secret to success?  It is a question I receive often. The one secret is… there is no “one” secret.  Therefore, how can entrepreneurs achieve success? To be successful, there are four networking fundamentals that a business owner needs to focus on.

The Networking Fundamentals to Grow Your Business

  • Be Selective
  • Continuously add people to your network
  • Seek Engagement
  • Share Stories

The Secret to Success

Over my career, I have observed people with different personalities, backgrounds, and behavioral styles achieve success in life. Many times I wondered if there was a reoccurring theme running through their success stories that would clearly illustrate what creates success. Therefore, when I interviewed average business owners and entrepreneurs over the years, I asked them what they felt their secret to success was. They generally told me things like vision, goals, passion, persistence, and systems.

I then asked many highly successful people who had obtained great wealth or personal success in business, sports, or science. They generally told me that their secret to success involved things like vision, goals, passion, persistence, and systems. Sound familiar?

Everyone I interviewed or wrote about regarding the secret to success – from Buzz Aldrin to Erin Brockovich, from average businesspeople to undergraduate college students – gave me virtually the same answer. So if we all know what it takes to be successful…

Why are we all not as successful as we would like to be?

The truth is there is no great mystery. Very often, “success is simply the uncommon application of common knowledge.”

When you hear successful people talk about the secret of their success, have you noticed that you rarely hear any real secret? What you do hear about is their unwavering adherence to some system or approach they believed in and followed with intensity and determination. Successful people focus on the goal and work through or around everything else. In sports, this is called “keeping your eye on the ball.”  They do this with a passion and a vision.

Success comes to those who have not only a passion and a vision but who also have persistence and commitment to perform the fundamentals over and over, continuing to work and learn until they can perform these networking fundamentals flawlessly. In the end, we already know what our goals are and how to achieve them. This is common knowledge, and it’s been around for a long, long time. Success is learning and practicing the four networking fundamentals.

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