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Networking’s Not for the Derelict of Character

Posted by Marjorie Signer on April 3, 2009

I go to a lot of networking events. In fact, I try to go to as many as I can each week, because I’d much rather talk to a complete stranger face to face than cold call them on the telephone (of course because I know that, in the beginning, networking is not likely to produce immediate business, I still spend plenty of time cold calling.) But to successfully network, you have to have a plan, because no many how many groups or functions you go to, there is a limited number of people you can meet at any given time.

Through out the years, I’ve read a lot of books about how to be a successful networker and there are a couple of tips that have stuck with me.

Rule #1 Give

ALWAYS ask how you can help them before you ask how they can help you. I know it’s been said a million times (In fact, BNI built their entire philosophy around “Givers Gain”) but I like to think its been said so much because it’s absolutely true. The scientific proof behind why giving first makes you exponentially more likely to receive was beautifully explained in Robert Cialdini’s book Influence, which I HIGHLY recommend everyone read. The highlight of the explanation is that the need to reciprocate a gesture is a fundamental part of human evolution — and you can’t argue with millions of years of development can you. 

Rule #2 Befriend Your Competition

Don’t shrink away from your competitors. There is more than enough business for all of us and your competitors can become your best teachers and your best referral sources. Make friends with the people in your industry and be willing to share best practices with them. In business you never want want to run from anyone, stand strong, be confident and above all else, be friendly. The world changes everyday and you want as many allies as you can get.

Rule #3 Be Authentic

People can smell a fake a mile away and when they’re sniffing the air, you don’t want them to wrinkle up their noses at your approach. No matter what the business books and coaches say, at the end of the day, people do business with people they like. Period. When you’re genuine and show people who you are, you attract people who are like you and who have a desire to work with people like you. Attracting the right kind of client is more important for long term success and happiness than attracting just any clients. You can’t please everyone and not everyone is going to like you, so stop trying to put on what you think is the perfect facade and spend more time being exactly who you are and living the life of the person you want to become.

Rule #4 Commit to Building Community

No matter where you network, commit to becoming a true part of that community and invest your time, talents and energy into making it even better. Spend extra time sitting down one on one with members of the group and really get to know them. Ask questions in the group and allow others to help you. Reach out to members and offer to help them. Think of your networking group as a neighborhood. What kinds of relationships make your neighborhood feel like home? What benefits have you reaped in your neighborhood because of the friendships you’ve built?

 If all you do in your networking group is give your 30 second commercial, listen to others give theirs and then chat briefly with a few people before you dash out the door, do you really think people will remember you, refer you or want to do business with you themselves?

Rule #5 Take It Slow

Networking isn’t prospecting for immediate business. It’s not like hunting, where you go out, kill an animal and eat that night. Networking is an opportunity to build friendships and develop business relationships that are mutually helpful. Think of it as farming people.  You have to first plant the seeds by introducing yourself. Then you have to nurture the people you meet so that they begin to know you and like you. As an understanding of who you are and what you do begins to grow and the people you network with begin to like you and experience the value you offer, opportunity blossoms. The nice thing about networking is that, while it takes time and a great amount of effort, once good things start to come from it, the harvest  bounty never slows or decreases its yield.

Networking isn’t for the feint of heart or the derelict of character. It’s also not likely to feed you tonight. But like anything else  of value in this world, your get out what you put in and if you network with intention, honesty and energy, it will eventually feed your business and your soul for the rest of your life.

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