Hows Your Net Working?

In recent weeks, I've had the opportunity to pass along no fewer than five referrals to other people in my network. I also recently received a very professional and non-pushy email from someone I've never met, who is a member of an organization I'm part of. He introduced himself briefly, mentioned how he knew of me, and asked about my ideal clients. He placed far more emphasis on finding out who I wanted for referrals than he did asking if I would refer business to him.

It was clear that he's playing the "givers gain" game to grow his business. And a short time after receiving his email, as I was thinking about where to get a massage, I spotted a brochure and discount offer I had picked up from a woman at a recent networking event. Although I had other options, I chose her based on her brief presentation at the event and the offer she included with her brochure. In short, networking works!

It really got me thinking about networking and what a powerful tool we have at our fingertips. How is your "net-working?" If the answer is "not very well" then I encourage you to get busy and start making it work for you.

Consider the following:

* Experts agree that the best means of finding employment is through networking--not want ads;

* Word-of-mouth marketing is considered one of the most potent and cost-effective marketing strategies--think about how you found your hairdresser, chiropractor or favorite new restaurant;

* Networking is not just about exchanging goods and services but ideas as well. Mastermind groups, book clubs and other groups where the ideas exchanged may be far more valuable than any tangible goods are not to be underestimated!

* And don't forget the networks of people you meet through your children's activities, church or social organizations. When my hairdresser recently moved away, not only did I ask others for referrals but it so happened that the mom of one of the kids on my son's baseball team is a hairstylist. I'll be calling her when I'm ready for my next haircut.

The list could go on and on, but suffice it to say, your network is likely one of your most undervalued assets. Here are some ideas on how to maximize your networking efforts.

1) Give first. Think how great it feels when you refer someone to a new restaurant, a great movie or to a doctor you love. You usually give without expecting the other person to automatically reciprocate. Unfortunately too many people who do business networking operate by the "give me first" philosophy and then wonder why networking "doesn't work." Set a goal to try and make one referral a day. Before long the old "what goes around comes around" rule will kick in and others will be looking for ways to send business your way. When you become known as a resource for quality contacts your perceived value rises as well.

2) Select networking opportunities carefully. In the community where I live, you could attend networking functions morning, noon or night every day of the week and still not tap them all. You can't do everything so have some simple criteria for selecting which networking events to attend:

* Who is the event geared to? This means you must know and be able to succinctly articulate who your target audience is. Will this this group put you in touch with people who fit that profile?

* Are you sincerely interested in the group, its purpose, etc.? Attending something just because all the "movers and shakers" will be there is a potential recipe for failure. Make sure the group fits your personal/professional interests as well as your client profile.

* Consider cultural or educational events that you have a sincere interest in. It's much easier to make contacts in a group of people who share some personal passion or interest with you. One that has been very effective for me is the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). Not only have I received excellent referrals, it's given me a pool of over 200 professional women to refer business to. Another has been my Toastmasters group. Believe me, I don't really market myself there, but the regular contact and opportunities to speak have helped me gain the trust of others who have been generous in sending business my way.

3) Don't rush it. Too many networking functions are marathon business-card-passing events and most of the time those cards end up in the round file. Better to have 2-3 quality conversations and really seek to make a positive connection than have 20 conversations where both parties are simply faking interest in order to hand out a card and move on to the next victim.

4) Have a follow-up strategy. What good is it to collect business cards that you never do anything with? I ask if people would like to receive Monday Morning Coach as a natural follow-up to a conversation or speaking event. That allows me to stay connected to them on a regular basis. Even if you don't write a weekly ezine, you can still create a simple follow-up strategy. A handwritten note following the event is the most personal; email is another option, or make a phone call and schedule time to meet with your new contacts within a week or so. The point is, don't let the opportunity to develop a relationship die on the vine.

5) Finally, make sure you ALWAYS properly thank anyone who sends you a referral. Even if it doesn't actually result in a business deal, thank them for thinking of you. Do it in writing if possible and as soon as possible after receiving the referral. Everyone likes to be appreciated, so let your referal sources know how much you value their trust. Nothing will reinforce their decision more than a sincere note of appreciation.

There are dozens of books on networking that go into much greater detail and depth than I have the opportunity to do here. If you're sincere about building your business through networking, pick up one or two of them and become a student. And realize that networking is really the art of growing relationships. It takes time, care and attention, but the crop you harvest in time will be well worth it.

And I've come to realize the greatest riches of all are the relationships themselves. When you play the game of building relationships you really can't lose. So what are you waiting for?

Betty

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Quote of the Week
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"No man becomes rich unless he enriches others." ~~Andrew Carnegie

Betty Mahalik is a business and personal coach whose mission is to help "transform your potential into performance." Since 1987 she has also presented hundreds of programs, trainings and seminars on everything from interpersonal communication to time management. She writes a weekly motivational e-message called Monday Morning Coach. To subscribe or learn more about her coaching and training services, visit http://www.dynamic-coaching.com

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