Let’s talk about the word “networking”. It has become so overused that some business professionals can no longer define it. Many people think that networking is only about going to social mixers or after-work business events, where they shake a few hands, collect some new business cards, and, of course, give away some cards of their own. Sadly, they truly believe that’s all there is to networking. To be fair, we could say that they are engaging in social networking. However, that type of activity should never be confused with business networking.
As the Founder & Chief Visionary officer of BNI® I have seen the definition of business networking change and evolve over the past 38 years. This is my definition of networking:
“Networking is the process of developing and activating your relationships to increase your business, enhance your knowledge, and expand your sphere of influence or serve the community.”
Notice the key word is relationships.
Successful networking of any kind starts with the genuine desire to build relationships for the purpose of giving and receiving business. If someone is only networking to gain and not to give, they will never be successful.
Building Relationships should be one of the most important components of your business. And the best way to do that is by FARMING not by hunting. It is all about cultivating relationships – taking the time and giving the energy to help them grow and flourish. Think like a good farmer does: they know when to tend to their crops and when to harvest them. If you over pick or try to harvest too soon, you’ll be left with nothing. However, if you continue to care for and maintain your crops (and your business relationships), they will grow abundantly and provide bountiful results for you.
Business professionals who are the farming type of networkers go to networking events because of the opportunities to meet new people. They do not use those events as face-to-face cold calling opportunities. They understand the importance of meeting someone and then building a relationship with them. They go well beyond the ‘hunting’ style of meeting people, which is simply adding another name to their contact list.
Build Deep Relationships
I’ve said this for years: If your network is a mile wide and an inch deep, it is not powerful. To maximize your business relationships, you need to go beyond knowing someone’s name, their job, and where they work. A deep network contains the contacts that you know much more about, and those who usually know much more about you. You want to find out about their family, their interests, their hobbies, their goals. That is how you build a strong, deep network.
Social capital is also an important component of building strong relationships. Social capital is like financial capital. In order to amass financial capital, you have to invest and grow your assets. You need to have money in the bank before you can make a withdrawal. Relationships are very much the same, particularly referral relationships. You must support and help others with their business before you can ask for their help.
Two Views of Business Networking
I have found that businesspeople tend to fall into one of two groups when it comes to their views about networking. For many people, the current mind-set is that networking is a passive business strategy, rather than a proactive marketing tool. This attitude results in a scattered and often ineffective networking approach that consequently wastes the businessperson’s time, and their money. It’s no surprise that when people feel they’ve been wasting their time and money on something, they are understandably not going to want to continue that activity.
On the other hand, some professionals do consider networking a proactive marketing tool for their business. How can you tell? They make it a significant part of their marketing and business plans. They have networking goals. They may even include a budget line item for networking. Most importantly, they practice it and live it every day. They realize that their networking team is there to keep an eye out for potential customers for them. When you “target talk”, that is, when you hone in on exactly what type of client you are looking for, the result will be better, more qualified referrals from your networking partners.
When you have a proactive mindset and attitude about networking, and you focus on building strong, mutually beneficial relationships with like-minded people, you will be well on your way to successful business networking.