You can find numerous references in the business literature about the importance of a company's mission. These sources emphasize that the mission is not to make a profit; that a profit is the outcome of and reward for fulfilling the mission. In the same sense, the mission of networking is not to gain business and close sales. The mission of your networking activities is to make connections, develop relationships, and help others. The outcome of these activities will ultimately be increased business. It's the reward, not the purpose.
Matt Soltis, in his book Strategic Networking, says, "Although an early supporter of business networking, I became quickly disillusioned with it as a mainstay of my marketing plan. I found that something was missing from those long sessions of glad-handing and exchanging business cards. I had collected a pocketful of business cards but little else.
"While I was analyzing my needs and talents it was pointed out by my personal coach that I had a behavioral style that lent itself to chatting, while listening took a back seat. How could I learn if I would not listen?
"At the next opportunity to network, I intentionally listened, never interrupted, and found myself very interested in the other person's business. When I spoke, I asked questions, just a few, but selective so that they elicited answers about the other person's needs. I had stumbled on to the answer I was looking for. I wasn't there to find clients. I was recruiting others to look for my clients and pledging to reciprocate as I learned more about their business. I was participating in something I later described as strategic referral networking."
So how can you approach networking from a prospective that ultimately leads to increased business? First, it is important to understand that developing a network is a process, and it is about building relationships. A key objective of effective networking is to find out about others ? their concerns, problems, needs, and wants.
Become a problem-solver and a resource. Listen for problems you can help others solve, either directly or by referring them to someone else in your network.
Practice the fine art of questioning (and listening). Asking open-ended questions, and really listening to the other person's responses, is one of the most important networking skills. Some key questions or statements you can use to elicit additional information include:
· What would be an example of that?
· Please expand on that.
· Tell me more.
· How do you do that?
Be curious. Develop a true interest in others, what they do, and what they need.
Follow up and stay in touch. Developing a network is not about attending a bunch of meetings, having a meal, and going home. After all, the word "work" is part of "network." Remember, developing a network is a process. Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, describes networking as a process of developing visibility and credibility. Only then will your activities lead to profitability. It may take as many as five to 15 contacts with an individual over a period of weeks, months, or even years to develop the kind of visibility and credibility that leads to profitability.
Look for ways you can support your network members. It's not always about doing business with or even referring business to them. Some ways for you to support your network members include:
· Posting their information on your website or in your newsletter.
· Inviting them to speak at an organization in which you are involved.
· Doing joint promotional projects with them.
· Distributing their information.
· Nominating them for recognition and awards.
· Inviting them to attend events with you.
Arrive early, stay late, and get involved. Take a leadership role in the organizations you are involved in. It's a great way of becoming more visible and developing greater credibility with a larger number of people in a shorter amount of time. Focus on giving, not getting. If you look for ways to assist others, you will be rewarded for your efforts both directly and indirectly in unexpected ways.
Don't keep score. "Successful networking is never about simply getting what you want. It's about getting what you want and making sure that people who are important to you get what they want, too," said Keith Ferrazzi during a January 2003 interview for Inc. magazine. Or as Sandra Yancey, founder and CEO of eWomenNetwork quotes her mother as saying, "Give without remembering and take with out forgetting."
In addition to the ultimate reward of increased business, effectively developing your network will bring you:
· Different prospectives
· A support team
· Strategic alliances
· Access to resources
· Advice and Ideas
· More potential solutions
In his book, Soltis points out another value of networking: the ability to bring your clients value-added relationships through referring them to the right individuals to help them solve all of their personal and business dilemmas ? whether it is a tax question, temporary housing, or a place to board an exotic pet. As you determine the role that networking plays in your business-building strategies, ask yourself these questions:
· How can I assist the members of my network?
· What are their needs?
· What resources can I bring to them?
· What connections can I help them make?
What can you expect if you put in the time and effort required to develop an effective network? To paraphrase Yancey, from her CD, Increase Your Net Worth by Developing Your Network: A strong network brings the power to make things happen and provides a safety net when things aren't going so well.
© 2004 Strategies-by-DESIGN. May be reprinted with credits and contact information.
Julie Chance is president of Strategies-by-Design, a Dallas-based marketing consulting firm specializing in marketing programs including marketing coaching for professional service providers. If you are interested in additional information about how to develop more leads, turn those leads into loyal customers, and obtain a greater return from your marketing investment, Julie invites you to sign-up for their free marketing tips newsletter at http://www.strategies-by-design.com.