“I’m going to a networking event.”
“I need to expand my network so I’m going to a conference.”
“I hate networking.”
“That networking event was a total bust.”
These are some of the statements I’ve heard from colleagues, clients, students and entrepreneurs, and they always bring a smile to my lips.
Because they seem to presuppose that networking only happens at events, and that somehow it’s the event that is the magic button.
What Networking Really Is … and Isn’t
You network (and market) every day. And if you don’t, it’s time to start today.
Every time you are in contact with someone, it’s a networking opportunity…it’s a marketing opportunity.
And I don’t mean plaid-coated-used-car-salesman-in-your-face-sales-pitch (apologies to any used car sales men, and to anyone offended by my use of the male gender rather than the neutral sales’person’;-))
Networking isn’t about selling.
It’s about listening.
It’s about asking questions.
It’s about learning as much as you can from the other person and seeing if there is common ground, a possible touch point of commonality and opportunity for further engagement.
It’s definitely NOT about taking a stack of business cards everywhere you go (do you still carry print business cards?), barely looking someone in the eye, asking for their card as you hastily shove your card into their hand, then scurrying off to the next best thing. If someone’s running around trying to collect as many cards as possible, with no meaningful contact of connection: that’s not networking.
I read a statistic once that over 80% of all business cards collected at a networking event or trade-show are never followed up on.
And that’s probably because if you don’t know the “why” of why you’re networking – for what significant, beneficial difference or result for all parties – it might be a cool cocktail party, but it’s just that. An event, some fun, some beverages perhaps, some polite exchanges, but in the end… nada in terms of results.
And don’t forget the grocery store, hockey rink, auto shop, check-out line… the multitude of places you frequent all the time…they are all potential networking opportunities.
Networking on Purpose
You need to ask yourself: what’s the purpose of my networking?
Then network on purpose: with a specific goal(s), result and outcome in mind.
It’s not enough to show up.
It’s important to know, in a quantifiable way, what you want to achieve by networking.
Maybe it’s to meet 10 people in complementary businesses to chat about THEIR business, remember their name and then drop by their business to chat further.
You don’t launch into how great it would be to work with them. You just met them! The initial encounter is all about learning about them, visiting them (online or off), engaging them in further conversation and seeing where that leads.
Networking is not transactional. It’s relationship building. And you don’t build a relationship in an encounter. It’s nourished and nurtured over time.
So the next time you think about networking, think about this:
- Why am I doing it?
- What’s the intended result or outcome?
- How will I follow-up?
- How will I nurture and nourish that first encounter to become a relationship?
- Where will I see opportunity that I don’t currently see or take advantage of?
And in this case, it’s not all about WIIFM… what’s in it for me?. Figure out what’s in it for them.
Why would the person you’re talking with, meeting with, engaging with want to continue building a relationship?
WIIFT… what’s in it for them?
When you meet someone else’s needs – provide a solution to their problem(s) – reduce their pain or add to their enjoyment – your networking will pay off in dividends.