Stop Networking and Start Building Relationships
Much of business is done based on relationships. Many people try to build business by networking. Unfortunately, most have not made the connection.
I heard someone the other day say “I’m off to yet another networking event.” The inference that he was neither happy nor enthusiastic, and didn’t expect much from the event was pretty clear. With that kind of an attitude going into an event that is all about meeting people, getting to know them and having them take an interest in you, his odds of experiencing a successful event didn’t seem promising.
For many entrepreneurs, going to networking events and participating in networking activities is fundamental to getting new business, yet many don’t enjoy it and many more don’t do it particularly well. These people dread networking and it shows. They hide out at the events by standing self-consciously in a corner of the room apparently avoiding human contact as if their fellow attendees had the bird flu. When these entrepreneurs do talk to people, they talk too long to the wrong people because they feel that at least they’re talking with someone, or these “networkers” hang out with friends lamenting about what a dud the event is. Each of these behaviors provides the unsatisfactory outcome of not meeting new people with whom they can create opportunities.
At these events, there are the business people who manically collect business cards like they were $100 bills flying out of a passing Brinks truck only to have them sit in a drawer when they get home, never to be looked at again. Or they pass out business cards to every human being who comes within ten feet of them. Even when these entrepreneurs do meet with people with whom they could create opportunities and have good conversations, often there is no follow-up meeting and the potential benefits of the promising conversation are extinguished.
Given the unpleasant nature of the experience many business people have with networking activities and the poor results they garner from their efforts, I give them high marks for having the discipline to suit up and show up. Being somewhat shy and introverted, I’ve experienced some of this myself. Perhaps you have too. It doesn’t need to be this way. You can feel good about going to networking events and activities, and perhaps even enjoy them, while creating relationships that will have a positive impact on your business. It’s about skills, process and attitude.
Let’s start with attitude first. Stop thinking about networking and start thinking about building relationships. Networking events and activities are about creating relationships. Having the intention of going to an event and creating relationships puts attention on the intended outcome and away from mindlessly going to another “business building activity.” You’ll feel better about going because you’ll have focus on an intended outcome. Using the correct words to describe what you’re doing is important in creating the right mindset and the right attitude.
A good process for making the most of networking is as follows:
Identify the people you want to meet at the event or at least the types of people (accountant, attorney, etc.) ahead of time.
Find these people at the event and strike up a conversation with them about topics that are of interest to them. Make a positive impression with them.
At this point there are two ways to go. The first is to make an appointment on the spot to meet with them outside of the event within the next few days. The second is to get their business card and reach out to them soon after the event, ideally within 24 hours so the contact’s recollection of you is fresh, to make an appointment to meet. Hearing the person you’re calling say “who are you again” is highly disappointing as is having an e-mail suggesting a follow-up meeting go unanswered. So be prompt with your follow-up.
Have the meeting and have a plan for follow-up communication suggesting further action. If the meeting goes very well, create a plan with the contact for subsequent meetings.
The above process is the beginning of building relationships with people who you can help, and who can help you and your business. It’s not rocket science. In fact, it’s pretty straight forward. With practice and a little discipline, over time your skills will get better at networking because you won’t be networking. You’ll be using a process to build relationships. Building relationships is fun and rewarding. Networking is neither. Give it a try and see if your experience with networking improves.