Instead, I urge you to start building a network. What the heck is the difference? Aren’t they the same thing? Glad you asked.
You are correct, the purpose of networking IS to build a network. Your network is a group of people with whom you have something in common – a bond based on actual (or potential) mutual benefits or interests. However, the term networking has gotten a bad reputation lately. There are many reasons for this but the main cause, I believe, is a lack of knowledge as to what networking really is. Secondly, there is a lack of insight as to how to build a strong network. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts which will help you build your network…and grow your business.
Networking is not selling
Have you ever been on the receiving end of an opening like this “Hi, I’m in the widget business…have you considered how widgets can help your business?” There is so much wrong with this approach and this, more than anything is why networking has gotten a bad reputation. If your approach to networking is really selling – you’re doing it wrong! Proactively seeking new business is NOT networking…it is prospecting. True networking is the act of creating and building relationships. It is establishing connections which have the potential for mutual benefit.
Know your value
The first law of Stratospheric Success from the book The Go-Giver states “Your true worth is determined by how much more you provide in value than you receive in payment.” Make sure that you know your personal brand well enough to know your true value. Knowing your own value proposition will allow you to focus on the other person’s story. This focus lets you recognize where, how and with whom you can provide value.
Fish where the fish are
Take the time to learn about the group(s) where you intend to network. There is no real benefit to be gained from attending a networking event if the service or product that you provide – your value – doesn’t match the group’s stated purpose or the mindset of the attendees. Once you’re attending the most opportune events you need to have specific objectives for each event. If possible, check the list of attendees and identify those persons you’d most like to connect with. If such a list is not available, it makes sense for you to set goals for yourself. Here is an example:”I will make four significant connections”; “I will initiate two introductions between others that I believe will be beneficial to them“; “I will schedule at least one future meeting”.
First be interested – THEN be interesting
It’s been said that no one has ever ended a conversation when they are talking about themselves. We all like to be interesting. For that to effectively happen however, there needs to be someone who is interested. Make sure that person is you. There’s no way to know if you can provide value to anyone if you don’t have a clue as to what that person’s needs, objectives and interests are. There can’t be a significant connection if you don’t know these answers. Ask. Listen. Learn.
Don’t let your new connections fade or fizzle. Follow-up in an appropriate way. One sure fire way to reinforce your connection is to send a hand written note sent via the US Post Office. (If you don’t know what that is – please google it :)). A personal note which you’ve taken the time to write, address, stamp and mail will almost certainly have a positive impact. Many people would rather be contacted via email or other methods. If you’ve truly listened you will have the answer as to their preferred method.
Realize that you are NOT ‘networking’. Instead, you are building a network. Building your network will grow your business. As such, your network should be treated as one of your most valued assets – it IS. We rarely (if ever) instantaneously realize the full value of our assets. Remember that all things being equal, people will do business with – and refer business to – people that they know, like and trust. Trust is built over time. There are no shortcuts to building your network.
I personally encourage anyone interested in improving their ability to build a successful network to study Bob Burg’s How to Cultivate a Network of Endless Referrals (affiliate link). This time-tested system has been proven through the years to provide results to thousands of business persons.
So, stop networking. Build a business asset that money can’t buy. Know your value. Attend relevant events. Invest your time wisely. Ask, listen and learn.