5. seek relevant groups and connections
Identify and target groups and connections which are relevant to your aims and capabilities.
Relevance can be according to several different things, for example:
- Social grouping (e.g., ethnic, gender, age, seniority, etc)
- Political or religious grouping
- Trade or society grouping
- Academic or technical grouping
- Other common interest (e.g., social enterprise, environmental, Fair Trade, etc)
The more relevant your targeting of groups and contacts, then more useful your meetings and referrals will be.
Other professional people can be important networking contacts. Don’t limit your targeting just to obvious business people.
Certain non-business professional people can be hugely influential in networks, and greatly trusted because of their neutrality and professional standing – educators and scientists, for example. Journalists, surgeons, and magistrates, also. There are many others. It is not easy to make connections with these people through conventional business networking, but remember that a network is not only made of business-people, and be awake to these non-commercial connections when the chance comes.
If you find that your networking is producing very low opportunities for follow up and referral, try to improve your targeting. Find different groups and methods, in other words.
A true business network is a connected system of people within which referrals and opportunities can be passed through several connections, or circulated to all those connected. Networking thus can extend far beyond simply having lots of random one-to-one meetings.
A given number of people who are connected for a reason will generally be more productive than the same number of random connections.
So don’t go aimlessly after every networking opportunity which comes your way; instead try to find networks which already function well or have the potential to do so; and consider and decide which sort of groups and contacts will be most helpful for your aims and capabilities – ideally remembering that you need to be able to help them, as well as they should be able to help you.
Within most networks people tend to have a few close and trusted connections. Choose these, your most trusted and closest associates, very carefully.
Reputations are built according to your chosen contacts, in addition to how you yourself behave.
The old expression is generally true: “You can tell a man by the company he keeps…” (Or woman of course.)
So focus your efforts on groups and connections of integrity, as well as relevance.
You can identify your target group criteria in your networking strategy or plan, explained next.
6. plan your networking – know what you want – manage it
All projects need managing. Business networking is a project, and so it needs managing. You can use various tools to manage your networking.
You must manage your networking, or it will manage you.
Some people plan with shapes and connections on a big sheet of paper. Others prefer a spreadsheet. Use whatever you find comfortable.
Be able to plan and monitor your networking activities.
It is important to know exactly what you want, because you will be asked – very directly by powerful potential contacts – and you will need to give a clear answer.
An activity which has no clear planned outcomes is liable to be pulled in all sorts of unwanted directions.
As with any project, you will only move towards your aim when you keep focused on that aim.
If you don’t know what to plan, then probably some research is necessary:
In terms of evaluating and choosing a potential networking group – especially a big online community – investigate the tactics that successful members are using. Ask a leading member for pointers. This will help you assess the group’s relevance to your needs and strengths.
You will save yourself from attending time-wasting events, and registering with time-wasting websites, if you do some research before committing valuable time to deeper involvement.
A plan is vital because business networking can be a very time-consuming activity.
Have some targets and measurables, and monitor results.
A structured approach can be especially important for very sociable networkers.
Business networking can be a very enjoyable activity, and for some people can seem a lot more productive than it actually is, so stay mindful of business results and cost-effectiveness.
Here is a simple example for planning and monitoring networking, which extends the elevator speech template above.
Just use the headings as a guide if you prefer to work more intuitively, or if you favour a certain type of planning method.
networking planner example
|group 1||group 2||group 3|
|what is my aim?|
|ideal connections (people) – describing words|
|group name and type|
|group profile/sector/interests (relevance to me)|
|tactical group notes/tips – what works well?|
|my elevator speech (for this group)|
|what I can do for these people|
|what do I want from these people?|
|diary dates/scheduled tasks|
|compare with my other marketing activities|
Obviously alter the box sizes to allow for whatever content you want to insert.
The framework can be extended to manage specific follow-ups.
The example above doesn’t necessarily suggest you begin with three groups, or limit your business networking activities to three groups.
A sensible start might be to pick one business networking website, and one face-to-face business networking group or event, and see how you do before increasing the activity.
As you will see from the sustained focused effort point, business networking works best when it is attacked in a concentrated way. If you take on too many groups and websites at the same time you will be spread too thinly, and find it difficult to make an impact in any of them.
7. follow up your commitments and promises
There are two main reasons for the importance of following up:
- Networking only produces good results when it is followed up.
- Following up with contacts builds trust, reputation, and relationships.
Put negatively, to emphasise the points:
- Networkers who meet people and never follow up are wasting their time.
- Networkers who never follow up will eventually become known as time-wasters.
Follow up is a matter of relevance and commitment: If a contact or referral is not relevant, then say so, which avoids any expectation of follow up.
If there is relevance, follow it up, in whatever way is appropriate for the situation.
If you find that you are not wanting to follow up meetings and referrals because of lack of relevance then you can re-examine your group targeting strategy. You might be chasing the wrong groups and connections, and could need to redefine these issues.
8. be a positive influence
Be positive. Use positive language. Smile. See the good in people.
Be known as a really positive person. It rubs off on others and people will warm to you for being so.
Keep your emotional criticisms of others and personal hang-ups to yourself.
Speak ill of no-one.
Be passionate and enthusiastic, but not emotional or subjective.
Avoid personalising situations. Remain objective.
Seek feedback and criticism about yourself and your ideas from others. It is the most valuable market research you can obtain – and it’s totally free.
Be tolerant. Be patient. Be calm and serene – especially when others become agitated.
Followers gather around people who remain positive and calm under pressure, and who resist the herding tendencies of weaker souls.
At many networking events and situations you will have the opportunity to give a presentation to the assembled group. This is a wonderful chance for you to demonstrate your expertise in your specialist area, your positive confident character, and also to pass on some useful information.
When giving presentations in these circumstances, avoid giving a hard-selling pitch, unless you are sure that such a style is appropriate. Usually it is not. Aim to inform and educate rather than to sell. In many networking situations a strong selling presentation is regarded as insulting by those present. This is especially so if you are a guest of a group that you would not normally meet regularly.
You will sell yourself best by giving helpful information in a professional and entertaining credible manner.
Be confident, positive and enthusiastic, but do not let this develop into pressure on the audience, or a sense of your trying too hard.
Try to find and present within your specialism the most helpful information for the group concerned. Your aim at the end of the presentation is for the audience to have learnt something useful about your area as it applies to them, and to have been impressed with your professionalism and command of your subject.
9. apply sustained focused effort
Business networking is a form of marketing.
All forms of marketing benefit from strongly focused activity, which is necessary first:
- to create awareness, and then
- to build relationships to the point when a sale can be made.
A given amount of effort will produce much greater results when applied consistently in a strongly focused way, than the same amount of effort spread over several wider activities, especially if spread over time too.
This especially applies to business networking websites, where occasional light involvement has little impact, but focused continuous efforts can achieve a visible profile and build very many connections.
The same principle applies to local networking clubs, where occasional participation rarely penetrates the usual inner core of members, but regular enthusiastic involvement inevitably gains attention.
You should also be continuously open to unplanned networking opportunities, which can arise at any time. Business people are mostly normal human beings just like you. They have social lives, they travel, go to shops, sports events, restaurants, pubs, concerts, etc., and do lots of other things that you do too, quite outside of work. Paths can cross in the most unexpected places. You will find and develop connections in these unplanned situations if you:
- make eye-contact with people and smile
- take the initiative
- start conversations
- generally adopt an open friendly approach to everyone
- and always carry a pen and some business cards
Thereafter in all cases – planned and unplanned – much depends on what you offer to your connections – again see help others.
Business networking clubs and websites are full of people with many connections but little of value to offer, and they achieve poor results. Good results come instead from being friendly and open, from taking the initiative, from working hard at sustaining genuinely helpful contributions wherever you meet people.
In face-to-face networking clubs there is often a ‘clique culture’, in which members are defensive or sometimes seemingly arrogant. This often indicates a requirement to become known and trusted, which takes time and effort. (That said, if there is genuine arrogance, you would be sensible to find a different group.)
Business networking, like any other business activity, requires concentrated effort to produce results.
If you treat networking like an occasional or purely social club it will not produce good business results.
Business networking requires sustained effort to make things happen.
Sustained focused effort does not mean delivering a full-blown sales pitch to every person you meet, and plastering your brochures all around the hotel lobby.
Sustained focused effort means working hard to become a regular active helpful presence in the group.
Build relationships first, your
reputation next, and referrals and introductions will follow.
10. life balance
A healthy balance in your life – of work, pleasure, business, social, etc – promotes and gives off a feeling of well-being, which is helpful for networking in many ways:
- you will be at ease and relaxed, and this transfers to others
- you will be able to engage and respond in lots of ways with lots of people
- your life balance will project confidence, which fosters confidence in others
- you will demonstrate that you are in control of yourself and your business
- people will buy or refer you as a person – not just your business specialism
This particularly applies to referrals and introductions, in which your character reflects directly on the person referring or introducing you.
Being a balanced person enables low stress and a feeling of assurance, which are very useful characteristics in business networking situations, and particularly so if you have aspirations to become a leading member of any of the networks you aim to work with.
Measuring or defining life balance is not easy, but we know it when we see it in others, and we respond to it.
Having good life balance contributes directly to the level of faith people have in you.
And crucially, life balance gives you the strength to absorb problems, to care for others, and maintain vital qualities like integrity, dependability, compassion and humanity.
Conversely when our life slips out of balance for any reason, we have less to give. We have lower reserves of enthusiasm, energy, tolerance, understanding and consideration for others – all essential for growing and maintaining a successful business network.
This prompts an incidental ‘lifestyle’ tip – for business networking events where alcohol might be available: drink in moderation and keep a reasonably clear head. This is not to say that you should reject all local customs where drinking is involved. In many social business events, including many foreign situations, drinking and eating are a very significant part of relationship-building. Use your judgment. Alcohol to a degree certainly helps many social processes, but taken to extremes tends to be counter-productive.
- What goes around comes around.. humankind can’t yet explain this scientifically, but it does seem to work. Give to receive. Counter-intuitive to many people, nevertheless it’s the fundamental ethos of business networking. Help others.
- Use a helpful approach especially on business networking websites. Think: “What can I contribute to this community which people will find truly helpful?” And then work hard to extend that help – whatever it is – to as many relevant people as possible.
- Always keep your integrity. Nothing destroys networking like lack of trust. Trust is based on knowing that the other person has integrity.
- Ask people: “How can I help you?” and “What can I do for you?”
- Understand and use facilitative questioning. See Buying Facilitation. The techniques use careful questions to help people clarify their choices and decisions easier. It’s a powerful ethos – applicable widely beyond selling.
- Develop a concise and impressive description of who you are and what you do. Aim high. Think Big.
- Develop a description of yourself and what you do as a written statement, and as a verbal statement (an ‘elevator speech‘ or ‘elevator pitch’ – so called because it makes a successful impact in the time you share an elevator with someone who asks: “What do you do?”).
- Develop slightly different descriptions of yourself for different situations – so that you are as relevant as possible. As you work with these descriptions or ‘elevator speeches’, you will find that a series of mix-and-match phrases take shape. Continue to refine and adapt these statements. Get feedback from people, and notice what works best, for different situations.
- Be different to everyone else – especially your competitors.
10. Try to see all your competitors as potential allies. There is often not much difference – just a frame of mind. This can be very significant if you are spending a lot of time looking over your shoulder at what your competitors are doing, and not concentrating on building your own business.
11. Direct all your efforts to growing your own positive activities, and resist losing valuable energy and time and resources combating or worrying about the apparent successes or advantages of others.
12. Be positive. Use positive language. Smile. See the good in people. Be known as a really positive person. It rubs off on others and people will warm to you for being so.
13. Keep your emotional criticisms and personal hang-ups about others to yourself. If you hear someone being negative about another person, you will often wonder, “I wonder if he/she says that sort of thing about me too?..”
14. Some say it’s bad Karma to speak ill of another. True or not, why risk it? Saying negative things at the expense of another person brings everyone down. This is the opposite of what business networking requires to succeed.
15. Be passionate and enthusiastic, but not emotional and subjective. Avoid personalising situations. Remain objective.
16. Seek feedback and criticism about yourself and your ideas from others. It is the most valuable market research you can obtain – and it’s totally free.
17. Be tolerant, patient, and calm. Particularly when others are agitated. Followers gather around calm people.
18. Always carry a pen. Always carry a diary. Always carry your business cards. (Or modern electronic equivalents of all three..)
19. Drink less alcohol than everyone else around you, and if you cannot trust yourself to do this, do not drink alcohol at all.
20. Keep fit, or get fit, and then keep fit. Success and followers tend to gravitate towards people who take care of their bodies, as well as their thoughts and actions.
21. As soon as you can, create or have built a clean and clear website for yourself or your business. It is the ultimate universal calling card, brochure, and CV, all rolled into one, and perpetually available.
22. Only promise or offer what you can fully deliver and follow up. Always aim to under-promise, and then over-deliver.
23. Take great care with quick electronic messages (texts, messages, emails, etc) – you will be amazed at how many misunderstandings and breakdowns in relationships occur because a message is wrongly interpreted. Check and read twice everything you send.
24. Always follow up everything that you say you will do, however small the suggestion.
25. If you accept a referral or introduction to someone always follow it through.
26. Say “Thank you” to people whenever the opportunity arises – especially to people who get taken for granted a lot.
27. Be interested in all people. Invest your time, attention and genuine understanding in them.
28. Understand what empathy really means, and practice it. Look people in the eyes. Listen with your eyes. This is about communicating at a deeper empathic level than business folk normally employ. Very many business discussions are superficial – like a game or a set of dance steps; instead make a determined effort to concentrate and care about the other person. Listen properly.
29. Find reasons to give positive feedback to people – give and mean it.
30. Stand up for what’s right and protect less strong people from wrong, especially where you see bullying, cruelty, discrimination, meanness, etc. You will hear it everywhere when you step back and out of the crowd.
31. Networking is about building a wide and relevant network of meaningful contacts – not just having lots of one-to-one meetings. Big strongly connected networks inevitably capture more opportunities than networks with lots of holes and weak connections.
32. Choose your most trusted and closest associates very carefully – reputations are built according to the company you keep, beyond how you yourself behave.
33. Target groups and connections that are relevant – which fit your purposes, and you fit theirs.
34. Don’t waste your time on groups and connections that lack integrity or relevance.
35. Recommendations reflect powerfully on the recommender, therefore: Recommend only those people you are confident will reflect well on you, and always ensure you reflect brilliantly and memorably on anyone who recommends you.
36. Seek and take opportunities to make a positive difference towards a positive aim (of anyone’s) wherever you can – even if some of these opportunities are unpaid and unrewarded in conventional terms. You will learn a lot, create new opportunities for yourself, and develop a reputation for producing good results out of nothing. This is a powerful personal characteristic which people find completely irresistible.
37. Be clear and realistic about what you want when you are asked. Have a plan.
38. Research the customs and expectations of foreign cultures before networking with foreign business-people. What is considered normal in your own part of the world could be quite inappropriate in another.
network and networking definitions – other pointers
As explained in the introductory definitions of network and ‘net work’ above, definitions can be very helpful in understanding concepts.
This is definitely so in the words network and networker.
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a (business) network is:
“A group or system of interconnected things or people.”
This is significant when we consider networking in its fullest sense – beyond one-to-one meetings or contacts.
The word network first appeared in English around 1560. It meant, not surprisingly, ‘a netlike structure’, and actually originally referred to the process of making a net of some sort.
The meaning of ‘a complex collection or system’ is first recorded in 1839.
These terms derive originally from the net used by a fisherman.
The bigger and stronger the net, the more fish would be caught.
The same with business networks. (The fish represents your aims, for example sales achieved, or new clients.)
Networking goes beyond one-to-one meetings.
Effective networking involves building a strong well-connected network.
If you only take (or sell), your network will be weak. If you mainly help and give, your network will be strong.
To many this is counter-intuitive, but it works.
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a (business) networker is:
“A person who uses a network of professional or social contacts to further their career.”
The word ‘career’ in the OED definition is somewhat limiting.
In fact networking has for centuries been used in various ways to grow business as well as personal careers, and to make all sorts of projects happen, regardless of the terminology.
The purpose to which the networking efforts are directed can be anything.
The principle of networking is finding and building helpful relationships and connections with other people.
Mutual benefit (or mutual gain) is a common feature in successful networking – and this is a powerful underpinning principle to remember when building and using your own networking methods. It is human nature, and certainly a big factor in successful networking, for an action to produce an equal and opposite reaction. Effort and reward are closely linked.
The expression – “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours..” is another way to appreciate the principle of mutual benefit.
So is, to an extent, the notion that “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know..”
The point there is to ask yourself:
“Why would somebody want to know me?”
People may do something for nothing for someone once or twice, but sooner or later some sort of return is expected, even if not openly stated.
This is the principle of reciprocity.
Reciprocity applies very strongly where recommendation and referrals are involved.
“Why would someone refer or recommend me?”
This introduces the vital aspects of trust and credibility and integrity.
Would you refer someone you did not trust, to a valued contact of yours?
Other people tend not to either.
Return or reward does not necessarily have to equate precisely to the initial gesture. Importantly, reward is whatever makes sense to the recipient. To some a simple ‘Thank you’ is adequate. To others something more concrete is required. It depends on the situation, the value of the exchange, and the individuals and relationship history.
Business networking is practised by all sorts of people in work and business, especially through organized networking events and online services.
People who use networking can be employees, self-employed, owner-managers – any role, any level, and any specialism.
Networkers can be buyers and/or sellers, not least because most people are potentially both: most of us want to ‘sell’ or promote our own interests, and mostly we are all capable of ‘buying’ or otherwise enabling the interests of others.
Particularly beneficial results can arise from networking when people’s interests coincide to produce an effect greater than the separate parts. Networking can be a very helpful way to find such cooperative and collaborative partnerships – based on mutual interest.
A way of understanding this aspect is through the term synergy.
Synergy is a combined effect that is greater than the sum of the two (or more) individual parts.
Synergy between two providers (even competitors) can produce exciting new service propositions, enabling providers to work as associates or through more formal partnership.
Synergistic connections can therefore be a good way for smaller providers to compete effectively with much larger suppliers.
Networking connections which produce this effect are valuable and desirable, so look out for them, and try to build a network which contains these sorts of connections, especially where it strengthens your market offering.