You’ve all heard about it, some of you have done it, many have looked at doing it, and others just don’t know how to start doing it. And some of you have done it so much that it just doesn’t do it for you anymore!
It’s called networking.
It’s one of those words that you hear in business over and over again, day in and day out. It’s used, abused and sometimes even used to amuse. But through all of its iterations so many people really do not understand its true meaning. Or for that matter, its true value in business.
It’s like some of those other ‘business words’ you use but really don’t know why. Words like benchmarking, leverage, optimisation, and futureproofing. The terms you hear consultants say are presented as very complicated in an effort to convince you that you’d need their help to understand how they work.
We’ll I’m here to tell you, it’s just not that hard!
So, let’s put this into perspective for you and maybe give the word some meaning in your business and as a result remove the complication. Let’s provide you some sort of a path or plan to make networking more effective in your business in 2009.
I believe that in business there are two types of networking: internal and external. In order to effectively create a business network it’s important to combine both networks to give you maximum impact.
The internal network.
Too often in business we forget to use the internal network we’ve created; a network that exists through the staff we have employed and the lives they lead outside of the business environment.
Each and every person that works with you has a life outside of the business. And unless you tap into, show interest, and understand that life you are missing out on the networking opportunities it may deliver to the business.
Now I am not for one minute suggesting that you want your staff to work for you, or think about working for you, 24/7. What I am suggesting is that by simply understanding their lives and their personal interest you might be able to fulfil the needs of both parties and in turn create a great opportunity to not only network the business, but to add value to everyone’s lives.
Let me give you an example.
Sally, your receptionist, has worked with you for two years. She’s a great asset to the team and a fantastic ambassador for the business. Through talking to her over coffee you realise that she plays tennis on Saturdays, is a keen supporter of the hockey club where her boyfriend plays on Sundays and she helps out in the community through her involvement in the local church charity.
Armed with this knowledge you’re now in a position to add value to her life while adding three new networks to your business.
What can you do to help her with a sponsorship for her tennis club, or a fundraising event that might help them with a particular piece of equipment they are looking to buy? By doing this you are making her look like a hero to her team mates and in turn adding value to her life, while also getting a direct line into the tennis community network of members and players to promote your business. It’s a win-win.
The same sort of approach applies to her boyfriend’s hockey team, and her church charity. What can you do for her so that she might feel conformable with introducing you – and your business – to a new network?
The key here is to give these individuals in your internal network some incentive to help introduce you to that network. This incentive can be perceived or real, but an incentive none the same. They are putting their reputation on the line to introduce you. So make it worth their while to do that to ensure they are right behind the introduction and that you are both committed to the deal and the benefit of all. It’s that easy.
The external network.
When you look at the two networks, the internal network is the easy one as you already have the key contacts in the people you work with and an open door to the group of individuals in the network you are not currently a part of. So, you will see the benefits from this much faster as the introduction should happen much quicker.
The external network is a little harder to work.
Most business people think that networking in a business sense is to simply turn up to a function, hand out your business card and hope that someone calls you because you’ve made a new contact in your network.
To develop an effective external network takes time, dedication, and planning. Here are a few simple steps to take to ensure the best results with your networking activity.
1. Work up your 30-second ‘elevator pitch’ on what you do, how you do it, why you do it, what is your passion, and what you like to do for others to improve their lives. This will help position you to new people you meet as someone that they should take the time to meet and understand more. Without this first impression flow of relevant, engaging and interesting information you are just another handshake.
2. Create a range of ‘counter response’ questions that are more interesting and intriguing than, ‘so what do you do’ to avoid the stereo type ‘here’s me and here’s you’ first impression exchange that inevitably leads to a dead end conversation about the football. If you want to make it into a particular network of individuals they need to want you to be there! So you need to engage them.
3. In preparation to receive new people into your business network, make sure you have a robust data base and data storage process and system so you are capturing all of the names you are looking to attract. Networking is only as good as the data you have on each and every individual in your network. Without this you can’t use it to your advantage.
4. Develop a road map on the sort of individuals you would like to attract to your network. The sort of people that you feel could give you the best introductions to new business. Also those that you feel you could make the most impact on by what you can do for them, not so much what they can do for you.
5. Look to establish WHY they would give you those business introductions and help you develop your business. What is the pay off for them? In all cases they need to have some reason to network you on your behalf. And you being ‘a good person’ or having a ‘good product or service’ is simply not good enough.
6. Put a plan in place to establish how you are going to contact these people in your network, when you are going to do that and why you are going to do that. Remember you want to be a positive part of their network not a nuisance.
7. Don’t overload your networking. There is only so much ‘shaking hands and kissing babies’ one person can do. Too much and you will tire of your networking. Look to target three to four specific groups and work those groups well. These should be made up of a mix of:
o A group from your business category
o A group from your passion in life
o A community group that you feel you can contribute to or make a difference.
o A related group by way of business category or lifestyle.
By developing a networking strategy to tie both your internal network and your external network your exponential effect on the business will be extraordinary.
And last but not least, remember this golden networking rule:
Networking is not built around the fallacy of 6 degrees of separation. Networking works best with only 2 degrees of separation. i.e. where the person your networking with acts as the introducer to another person in another other network you would like to meet. This offers both you, and your potential contact a mutual person in the middle of the network, ensuring better communication of everyone’s needs and a personal endorsement both ways in the network.
Good luck! And remember business development is the net effect of networking.