I once read an article in a major online business venue. The title was “Stop Networking.” That is what the author was telling people. “Stop networking – it is so mercenary.” That is what he called it. The problem was that every example he gave on how networking doesn’t work was an example of really, really bad networking. So, he gave these really bad examples and then said to stop networking.
Instead of networking, the author said to do these five things:
- Focus on relationships, not transactions.
- Don’t ask for something before you give something.
- Don’t make the process about you.
- Strive for quality, not quantity in your relationships.
- Volunteer for leadership roles in the organizations that you belong to.
I would argue that ALL FIVE of these strategies are, in fact, all about networking. Networking the right way. In that article, bad networking tactics were presented as the reasons that people should quit networking altogether. Networking can be done horribly wrong, but networking isn’t bad. In fact, when it is done right, it is a fantastic way to build your business. So don’t stop networking – just start doing it right.
Networking absolutely is all about relationships. Not transactions. I have been saying that for many years. The key to networking events is to make solid connections with people so that when you follow up with them, they remember who you are when you invite them out to coffee or lunch. When you go to business networking events and you try to sell to people, they are never going to want to meet you again.
I think many people still confuse direct selling with networking. When people use networking as a face-to-face cold calling opportunity and are trying to make a sale, networking gets a bad rap.
The article’s second point was to not ask for something until you have given something. I wholeheartedly agree. I used the philosophy of Givers Gain® when I started BNI® in 1985, and it continues to be the principal core value of the organization. It is based on the law of reciprocity and the concept of giving to others without expecting anything in return.
I have been talking about the social capital aspect of networking for a long time. You need to invest in social capital. If you want people to be eager to meet with you after networking events, the key is to find ways to help them.
When I talk to people about successful business networking, I tell them to be more interested than interesting. It is not all about you. Do what you can to make a connection, especially if you are networking up to someone who is more successful than you. Rather than showing off, show interest. Ask them about their business and their current projects. Don’t talk about yourself, or even worse, don’t make a sales pitch to them the moment you meet them. We’ve all heard people say, “It never hurts to ask, right?? Wrong. It totally hurts to ask. Contrary to popular belief, it hurts to ask for business if you don’t have the relationship.
Focus on Quality
The next point is quality over quantity. The one thing that is more important than the size of your network is the quality of your network. It is a people puzzle, not a numbers game. It is about finding out about the people you are meeting with and finding ways to build deep, mutually beneficial business relationships with them.
If your network is a mile wide and an inch deep, it will never be successful. Instead, your network needs to be both wide and – in places, deep. A large network with multiple quality relationships makes for a much more powerful personal network.
The last point in the article is to become engaged in the groups that you belong do. I completely agree. If you really want to stand out in BNI or in any profession or civic network, volunteer and become a leader. It is amazing how much exposure you can receive when you are helping to run a group that you are active in.
You can gain visibility in your community through volunteering. Remember, people need to know, like, and trust you to have the confidence to refer other people to you and your business. However, it is important to remember that volunteering is not a recreational activity, it is a serious commitment.
The best way to network is to connect with people. Get to know them, build a relationship, and find ways to sincerely help them rather than using networking as a sales opportunity. You can achieve business networking success by building relationships and networking with a Givers Gain attitude.
My advice is don’t stop networking. Just start networking the right way.