What is Business Networking?
Networking has been part of business life for thousands of years. For example, history tells us that commerce and trade in ancient Greece and Rome relied heavily on personal networks.
Fast forward to today and, done properly, networking can be an extremely cost-effective way to get referrals and boost your bottom line.
If you belong to a business association where you build a solid network of people who know and trust you, the revenue you generate over the years should make the annual membership fee and the price of event tickets look trivial.
Unfortunately, the sad reality is that networking is often done badly. Here are couple of typical scenarios you may be familiar with.
- The one-sided conversation with a stranger. You’re at a business event and someone introduces themselves, hands you their card and starts spruiking their services. Eventually, after showing no sign of being interested in you, they disengage and move on to their next target.
- The production line referral system. You join a networking organisation in which members are under pressure to generate a continual stream of referrals for each other, week after week. Usually, the referrals you get are poorly-qualified ‘opportunities’ that turn out to be useless and waste your time.
In the first example, that stranger isn’t networking. They are giving you a sales pitch.
In the second, because people are obliged to give referrals, the focus is quantity rather than quality. Handing out names and phone numbers at a meeting isn’t networking.
So, let’s look at three principles that define what networking is really all about.
Networking is a long-term strategy
When you find yourself staring into a cashflow hole because the economy has turned down or a major client has left you, deciding to ‘do some networking’ probably isn’t going to save you.
Or to put it another way – if you want to get results from networking during this quarter, you really should have started months or years ago.
Networking means relationships and mutual trust
There’s a difference between networking and adding people to your contact list.
The heart of networking consists of professional relationships that you’ve nurtured, over time, with people you trust and who trust you in return. When you have a genuine business network, you have something far more valuable than just a collection of names, phone numbers and email addresses.
Networking is purposeful
There should be nothing hit-and-miss about your business networking. You should aim to build a network that connects you with your target market. In other words, put some direction into it.
One way to do this is to join a business association or industry group whose members are either potential clients or people who are likely to know potential clients.
To sum up, networking is a way to find referrals and win new business that works in the long term, depends on relationships and mutual trust and is purposeful.
Those principles are the foundation for everything else accomplished networkers do, including developing some specific skills and habits. We’ll talk about those in future posts.