If networking isn't about collecting business cards, then what is it?
By Marsha Egan
Instead of thinking about a network, let’s envision a net.
If you place yourself at the center of this net, you can see how your direct links, or connections, extends outward. And each of those links extend outward as well. Yet they are all interconnected. This is what we want our net to look like, and even more, to “work.”
I meet too many entrepreneurs and business people who believe or act as though their selling efforts are all direct one on one transactions with their prospects and customers. What they don’t realize is that when they build a network, much of the selling and prospecting can actually be done by other people. A network helps you multiply yourself.
In my networking workshops, I ask the question, “ How many friends and acquaintances, conservatively, do you think you have?” The answer usually ranges between 200 and 500. My next question is, “How many people do you think each of those people know?” Then we do the math. Conservatively, if each of these people knows only 200 people, that person is “ connected” to 40,000 people, only one person removed! Just imagine the numbers with the second and third levels of connection!
So the first hurdle to overcome in building a network is to recognize how powerful connections can be. This is the very important people side of the business that many have a hard time acknowledging or understanding.
In any business, there are relationships to be built. These enable positive progress. We call these relationships a network. People’s careers rarely progress solely through individual work; there are usually several people involved in an individual’s successful career or business.
Many people cringe at the suggestion of “networking.” They feel that they may be building insincere relationships or compromising their true selves by rubbing shoulders with higher-ups in the organization. So, out of principle, some very capable people don’t network.
So, let’s set the record straight. Networking is not about collecting business cards. It is not about pretending to like someone that you aren’t. It is not about catering insincerely to a boss or potential clients.
Networking is about building reciprocal, synergistic relationships with people throughout your organization, your business community, and your life. It is caring about others’ progress more than you care about your own. It is establishing trustful, supportive bonds with people who share your goals, or your business goals.
The powerful side of building this network comes with your delivering excellent quality and service. As you build your network, and you provide great service, your network will start to work for you. People will talk to people. Satisfied clients will refer you to others. You are net will actually work.
So, when we look at networking as a sincere effort to build mutually beneficial relationships, it can actually be fun! When you take the focus off of yourself, and place it on others, your whole picture of building relationships can change. You become other directed, rather than selfish. You become caring rather than self—absorbed. You become interesting rather than boring. Doesn’t this sound better?
This approach puts a different focus or in how you can build and enjoy your networks. Instead of collecting as many business cards as you can, and writing the obligatory mail merge letter the next day, you can give yourself permission to have one or two more lengthy, other-focused conversations with people at a networking event.
“Other focused” is a key word in this equation. Many people make the error of trying to get the person to know about their business, as their primary objective of the conversation. People see through this immediately. If you show a true interest in the other person, and avoid trying to talk about yourself in the first several minutes of the conversation, you will go a long way to building what can be a mutually beneficial relationship.
The reality is that the strong majority of people will turn around and ask you about your business, after you have shown a true interest in theirs. This is how reciprocal relationships are built.
One word of caution. Reciprocal relationships don’t necessarily mean immediate benefits. You’ve got to be patient. A network is built over years. One person at a time.
And the more sincere, and helpful you are, and the better quality you deliver, the more mutually beneficial (and and fun) your network will be. Yours will be a net that works!
Marsha Egan, CPCU, PCC is CEO of The Egan Group, Inc., a Reading, PA based professional coaching firm. She is a certified executive coach and professional speaker, specializing in leadership development and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.marshaegan.com .