New Definition Archives - Dr. Ivan Misner®
definition of networking

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.

A Closer Look at What Networking Really Means

Back in October, I posted a brief video in which Dawn Lyons, Mike Macedonio and I discuss the new definition of networking (Click on the graphic below to view the video.).  Today, I’d like to provide much more detail and further clarification regarding this new definition.

Twenty years ago, I wrote a book called The World’s Best Known Marketing Secret. In it, I discussed several terms new to the business community, specifically about how they could help grow a business.  One term that seemed to have multiple meanings concerning business growth was “networking.” For some, networking was about compiling a huge database of names, usually by collecting business cards. Others saw networking as the opportunity to get in front of people and personally prospect for business. Still others perceived networking as nothing more than schmoozing and boozing, with no specific intention except to be seen and socialize.

So in an attempt to streamline the myriad of perceptions about the concept of networking, and based on my experiences in a variety of business and interpersonal situations, I concluded that networking was, in effect: “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, until. . . it didn’t.  Since then, I co-founded an organization called The Referral Institute with two partners, Mike Macedonio and Dawn Lyons. Based on our collective experiences in helping people across the U.S. and around the world build a system for getting referrals, we realized that the definition of networking needed to evolve. The new, updated meaning would reflect the changing times and business climate.  There were definitely some truths in the original definition that needed to be retained, but a few just no longer felt right.

One we wanted to address was “using.” Today, this sounds rather harsh, even cold. People today tend to find a negative resonance in the concept of “using” someone for personal or professional gain. The other word we scrutinized was “contacts.” The term has become synonymous with one’s database. And a database is, by design, impersonal, practical and, again, rather cold.  After many discussions about modifying the definition, we came up with what I feel is a much truer representation of the concept of networking:
“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, but they are significant. When one “activates” relationships, it’s a much more dynamic, interactive, give-and-take type of engagement with others than simply “using” the relationships. Using is a one-way street, while activating is a major two-way highway. It’s just much more powerful, more true to who we are – or need to be – today, if we want to succeed at truly engaging with our relationships. People who network in this way show markedly better results than the “users.”

About the paradigm shift from “contacts” to “relationships:” For many years, I’ve talked about the “hunting versus farming” mentality when it comes to growing a professional network. The “hunters” run from one business event to another, grabbing and passing business cards with very little interaction past that, diligently add the card to their database (read: “contacts”). Then they run out again in search of more to add to the ever-growing list. The bigger the list, the better they’ve “hunted” and, in their often-misguided opinion, the better their “network.”

But let’s think of the farmers, the ones who cultivate steady, growing, genuine and authentic relationships with the people they feel are important to include in their network. They have a steady back-and-forth of interactions that benefits not only them. Everyone involved is rewarded. Why? Because the time taken to really get to know people enough to make a relationship means that when it comes time to make a referral, it’s much easier to call upon them.

By simply changing a couple of simple words in my original definition, we were able to fine-tune it into what we believe is the true meaning of effective networking. Our revised definition is much more congruent with the style of networking we teach every day, and what we know really works.

To be successful with business networking, you should understand that it is really about helping others as a way of growing your business. The people you help are more willing to help you or connect you to people they know. So in essence, networking is part of the process you go through to build a referral-based business. Through networking, you can deliver your positive message effectively. Referrals are the end result.

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