The first and usually the biggest mistake that many people make is they jump headlong into the activity of networking with a complete misunderstanding of what networking really is. Networking is not aways the answer to every business problem. Especially if you are looking for a quick fix.
Many people join many networking groups expecting that to be the answer. I have always advocated that to really build a great network of support, you should focus most of your energy on being in one good group. Investing the time to develop relationships takes time. The first group I ever joined was a group that took nearly four months of weekly meetings before anyone felt comfortable enough to offer me a business referral.
When others began to realize that I was totally committed to the group, that’s when things began to happen. I started thinking that none of the members really understood what I did so I spent some time working on a better way to tell them what I did and what kind of business leads that would be good for me. I began to confidently and consistently talk about how I could help others in the group which nearly always had them asking more about what I did.
This group only allowed one business classification, e.g., one Realtor™, one banker, etc. I like that idea because if a member has a lead for a banker and there are three banks represented, they have to make a choice as to who to give the referral to. Allowing one business classification causes you to focus on building a relationship with one banker instead of three. I believe in commitment. It’s much easier to build a relationship with one.
I realized that I needed to think of networking differently to make it work for me. I asked myself who else is likely to have access to and have influence in my target market. I started making a list of open classifications and began inviting people I already had a business relationship with to join my group and fill those classifications. The cornerstone of your networking activities should be the people you have worked with or already done business with. The more people you know – really know – the more likely you are to make that important connection that yields the business referrals you desire. Those power partners saved my networking life.
Actively recruiting others encouraged others in the group to start actively recruiting more members because they soon realized that many of the referrals I was getting came mostly from members I recruited. The group suddenly exploded from 27 members to about 60 in about 4 short months. Our group had a waiting list of people who heard about us and wanted to join our group.
People share referrals with people they know, like, and trust. Dabbling in networking doesn’t work. You must spend time with people for that to happen so you may just as well focus all your energy on one group rather than many.
Sorry to say that there are a lot of what I call “networking deadbeats” out there. They skip from one group or event to another with no idea about how to make networking work for them. They often are members of 4 or 5 groups. Those kind of people will never have the loyalty to the members of your group and if they do bring a referral, you can be sure they are probably also giving it to the others in the other groups they belong to. Avoid groups with members who fit this category and carefully screen your new members to determine if they are a member of multiple groups. Networking works best when members are committed to your group.
Eventually I became a leader and authority on networking that others started to pay attention to. My business prospered and so did the group’s members. Each week I presented a new networking tip that was printed on cards and handed out during the meeting.
My opinion: There should be an unspoken rule that people don’t sell to each other during or after the meeting. Why? Because networking is about getting to know someone better so you can offer them referrals. Do your selling one-on-one outside of the meeting.
If your group has no accountability for encouraging members to bring referrals to the group, suggest that they instigate some ground rules and expectations for each other’s contribution to the group effort. Honor members with recognition who bring referrals. You may want to choose a different member each week to have the group focus on bringing them referrals. Reward those who bring the most referrals with a free breakfast or lunch at your next meeting.
If your group isn’t working for you, you must honor the “networking mandate…” be smart. Don’t quit! Invest your time and energy in it. Begin doing more for the group. Frequently ask others how you can help them and what kind of referrals would be good for them. The wonderful thing about the law of return is that when we help others it almost always comes back to us 10-fold. It is important to work hard to figure out what you can do for someone else when you meet them. Develop deeper friendships with the people in your group. Interact with each member. Be yourself, relax. Become the one everyone knows can be counted on. Recruit new members. Focus on bringing at least one business referral to someone every week. That means you must keep networking and your group a priority everyday by actively looking for business referrals to bring to the next meeting.
Networking is also about the follow-up. If you don’t schedule to meet someone new within 48 hours, (24 hours is much better) then you may have wasted your time. This is a good way of determining people who are really serious about establishing a relationship and those who are just connecting for the sake of connecting.
Copyright © 2014 – Larry James. Adapted from Larry’s latest book, Ten Commitments of Networking: Creative Ways to Maximize Your Personal Connections! Larry James is a Professional Speaker, Author and Networking Coach. He presents networking seminars nationally and “Networking” coaching by telephone or one-on-one. Something NEW about Networking is posted on this Networking BLOG every 4th day! Visit Larry’s Networking Website at: “Networking HQ!”
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