Networking tips for a digital age
Before I go into the secrets of networking I would like to put some context into why I am in a position to help you with this often misunderstood skill. I use the word skill deliberately because there is a simple formula that everyone can learn and if applied consistently will reap the benefits of the oldest and most successful way of building new business.
I have been a member for 30 years of probably one of the oldest networking organisations in the world which means that I have learned from the best. In tandem with that I have interviewed hundreds of business people on my radio show including professional networks who teach networking for a living and the great news is that they all agree on what makes a great networker and I will share that with you today. I will also talk about networking online and some slight changes you can make that should deliver you the same success.
What are you thinking when someone you know but have not spoken with for some time makes contact with you? Most likely you are thinking I wonder what they want and that would be a common thought for most people. They then ask you for something, perhaps something as simple as an introduction to a contact you have which you obligingly do and then they are gone - until the next time. How are you feeling? We have all experienced this and we are not impressed, in fact we feel used. The question you have to ask is, are you that person. Do you make contact with people only when you want something and then they don’t hear from you for ages. So lets look at the first and most important rule of networking, The Law of Reciprocity.
Reciprocity is deep down urge to respond when we are shown a kindness or given something without any expectation of a return. We learn this as children where we are encouraged to share, take turns and help others. Let me give you an example. Your car breaks down and a neighbour comes over to give you a hand. He spends an hour helping you and you know that you cannot offer him money as he would be insulted, so what do you do? Most people will either send over a bottle of wine or a bunch of flowers purely as a gesture. We all feel that urge because it is in built and it is used in many business scenarios including negotiations but I will stick to its use in networking.
Tip 1 - So lets take that piece of knowledge and apply it to the networking process. You have a network of people, many of whom you have not spoken to for some time and perhaps they are a source of new business. If you contact them your main focus must be to see what you can do to help them. You will go into a general conversation, ask about them, how business is and let that conversation develop. If they talk about a problem, listen carefully, ask some qualifying questions. The problem may have nothing to do with what you offer, however, you may know someone who can help. Suggest that you can connect them if that would be of assistance but don’t push it. More than likely they will say thanks, either take up the offer or perhaps refuse it and then they may ask how they can help you. Don’t be too quick to take up their offer, but be polite and say thank you.
Tip 2 - Patience. If they take up your offer of help you have a reason to contact them in a couple of weeks to see how they are getting on. If they refuse help you can call them to see how they are getting along and again offer assistance. What you are doing is building a relationship and placing yourself in the centre of a Circle of Influence which I will talk about a bit later. Again they may offer assistance and if there is something small that they could do suggest it, once it does not take them out of their comfort zone. As you re-build this relationship more opportunities may present themselves but make sure that you give more than you take.
Tip 3 - Everybody. Yes that is right everyone should be of interest to you and you should invest time with them. People have their own network and just because they may not be a candidate for your products or service those in their network may be a great opportunity. I would like you to think of it this way, you will meet people who have a need for your offering, you may meet people who know people who have a need for your offering, you may meet people that are offering something you need, you may meet people who are offering something that you know people could use. In other words you are in the centre of a crossroads of information and once you become known for that you are now in the centre of a Circle of Influence and people will seek you out. This requires you to spend time and understand what people do or offer because if you are in a place to recommend others your reputation is on the line.
Lets expand this further. Every day we come across lots of business opportunities but do not hear them because they are not relevant to what we offer. We don’t hear them because we do not know people sufficiently well to recommend them so those business opportunities pass by. Imagine if you knew people within your circle sufficiently well to be able to recommend them when these opportunities present themselves how you would be perceived by those around you. Not alone are you now the go to person but the Law of Reciprocity comes into play as we discussed earlier.
Tip 4 - CRM. It is well worth investing in a CRM tool like Pipedrive (www.pipedrive.com). As your network expands your ability to remember people and details diminishes so why not put in place a mechanism for taking notes, reminders and other details that will keep you up to date. For example a business contact is going on holiday and you know the area so you recommend a restaurant. Take a note, put a reminder in your diary to ring the person on their return so you can ask them how they got on and ask them if they tried the restaurant. There is no business discussed in this conversation but imagine how impressed they are that you remembered their holiday, how impressed they are that you cared to call and find out how they got on and if they went to the restaurant how thankful they will be for the recommendation. How does this feed into the Law of Reciprocity?
I hear the negative people out there thinking to themselves how mercenary this all sounds but in fact it is not. Reciprocity means giving without an expectation of getting anything back and that is the way you should be thinking. If something comes as a result of a kindness you do then fair enough but if you have set up an expectation that you deserve something you have missed the point and it will affect your networking ability in a detrimental way.
Networking online presents new challenges and opportunities. It is an opportunity because we have more time available and we do not have to spend time traveling. We can connect and stay connected with people who are far away and I have made more contacts in other countries than I would have previously because of the lockdown. I believe that the success of this is down to Zoom and other face 2 face tools because we need to see the person at the other end. There have been many networking groups set up and I set one up in March called the Virtual Business Owners Network for SME business owners which meets every Friday morning. The dynamics are still the same but the shake of a hand or hug is missing and that does make a difference. Networking is still about sharing and caring and most importantly about being consistent.
And there is a bonus. You will over the course of time make new friends, genuine friends who care about you and how important is that as we head into an uncertain future.
To sum up - networking is not selling, it is about building relationships with people that we know, like and trust for our mutual benefit. Don't let the fact that we cannot meet in person distract you from this important part of not just your business but your social life.