No doubt about it. Networking is the best way to build your business. But you’ve got to do it right to get the results you want. Most people who think they’re networking really aren’t and they waste their time and resources while wondering, “Why is this highly touted way of generating business not working for me?” So I wanted to share some tips on how networking actually works to generate business. I’ve broken it down into the following 5 rules of thumb:
- Don’t waste your time networking if you are not prepared to develop win-win relationships. This means helping others grow their business and achieve their goals while you’re striving to do the same for yourself. A key question to ask your networking contacts is: “How can I help you succeed?” and more specifically, “How can I help you get more business?” I have built my reputation and my business on this simple question. But you can’t just ask it. You have to mean it! And if someone does request your help, take action on it.
- If you aren’t networking for the long haul then don’t bother networking at all. You are wasting your energy if you expect instant results. The main thing is to keep up the communication so that it continues over time. Typically, it takes between 5 to 8 or more “touches” (sometimes less, but rarely) before the person feels that s/he knows enough about you to consider giving you their business or referring a client to you. When you are reaching out to your contacts, think about how you can help them. Can you introduce them to a business opportunity? Do you have some great resource that they could benefit from? What one piece of useful information or knowledge could you give them? Ask yourself “What can I do to help this person?”, “Who can I introduce this person to?” This is what makes networking work for you!
- Make time for networking just like you make time for everything else in your life that you find important. Attend networking events. Follow up with those good connections you make. And stay in touch with the the people who are important to you. Put networking in your diary until such time it becomes a natural and integral part of your working routine.
- Remember, the best networking is accomplished one-to-one, in person. This is the forgotten key to building relationships that will lead to ongoing business and referrals. It’s how you go from “contact” to “connection”, from “acquaintance” to “friendship”, from prospect to client, from customer to advocate. One-to-one interactions best occur over a cup of coffee, a bite to eat or a drink after work.
- If you’re not actively using LinkedIn, you need to be. LinkedIn can be a very effective complementary activity to networking the old fashioned face-to-face, in person way. Notice I said complementary. You still have to put the face-to-face, in-person element into your networking and relationship development efforts.
For many people, there’s a paradigm shift that needs to take place if they’re going to make networking really work them. That shift is to move from seeing the people they meet and the people they know as potential clients and customers to seeing them as potential referral sources and advocates.
So, the idea is to develop relationships with people who will talk about how great you are to everyone they know. This word-of-mouth advertising leads to a referral — your best and most enjoyable source of new business.
No question, the majority of new business you will get in the future will NOT come directly from the people you meet and know. It will come INDIRECTLY as a result of these people dropping your name and recommending you over lunch, on the golf course, at parties and in numerous other situations to their friends and associates. So look to develop mutually beneficial (reciprocal) referral relationships rather than seeing each person you meet as a potential “buyer” of your product or service.
I’m not saying you won’t ever turn a network contact into a client or customer. In some cases, you will. I’m just saying it won’t happen as often as you’d like. The reality is that the real power of your networking contacts is in who THEY know — there are many more opportunities there. You get what I mean.
Remember, networking is NOT about selling to the people you meet at networking events or selling to the people in your networks. Networking doesn’t work that way. And networking is not about how many business cards you can give out or collect and how many numbers you have in your iPhone or how many connections you have on LinkedIn.
I’m going to say it again. Don’t waste your time networking if you’re not prepared to develop win-win relationships. By focusing on helping your networking associates become successful and prosperous, you will contribute to their success as well as build your own success That’s because helping others inspires them to want to help you back.
Remember too, that while some relationships can develop quickly, others will take longer.
So there you have it. If you work at building and maintaining win-win relationships (through following up and staying in touch by being helpful) your networking associates will happily refer and recommend you. And, if they recognise that they struggle from the problems you can solve, they’ll happily buy from you too. Best of luck with your networking.
If you’re seeking more specific advise on how to generate business from your networking activities have a read of my ebook How Networking Works To Drive Business Growth.