Networking is no doubt been a buzzword in the business community for years now. The entire concept of the social website ‘Linkedin’ is networking amongst other business professionals. The American Bar Association publishes a monthly magazine entitled ‘Student Lawyer’ which in their February 2014 issue published a piece titled ‘Networking Doesn’t have to be painful.’
Across all professions networking is said to be key, but how do you do so effectively, and so that there are long-term benefits?
First of all, networking is about sales–the product being yourself or your business. If you look at it any other way, you’re probably doing it wrong.
When such an analysis is missed, some of the key elements to the sale are also missed.
1) Promoting value to your customer/client/colleague. If the person you are networking with does not know or recognize how working with you in the future can be beneficial to them, why would they even think to work with you.
2) Utilizing the law of averages. Not everyone says yes. Just like you don’t buy every product when you go to the store, not everyone will be interested or immediately interested in working with you. It is important to meet with a lot of people in order to develop a core group of clients, customers or referral sources.
3) Learn about your customer/client/colleague. This point should probably proceed point #1. It is impractical to promote true value to a customer/client/colleague if you don’t really understand what their needs are. Also, any information gained here can help you build a stronger long-term relationship with your customer/client/colleague and convert the individual from a customer/client into just a colleague.
4) Don’t seek a one and done. Great business relationships are often ones that develop over time. Utilizing someone one time for a quick benefit, even if that benefit is mutual, is somewhat hollow, and will not help you or your colleague build their business. Try to find opportunities to interact with a colleague even when you are not asking for the sale.
5) Cross-pollinate! I cannot stress this point enough. While the value that you provide to someone may not be direct, it can still be valuable. As you expand your network, think about the core of the word: net. Building a strong net demands of you to cross-refer. Understand who is in your network and what their needs are. Put people in your network together that can help each other. I am not a lawyer yet, but have worked in the law practice for years. I have built value within my network of colleagues mainly by finding ways to introduce colleagues in different industries with each other. I now have a group of doctors, chiropractors, body shops and insurance agents who each refer to each other. Who will be the lawyer that these professionals refer to around the time that I am admitted….probably me.
6) Ask for the sale. This is important, and often even forgotten in the sales world by people who know they are doing sales. Much like you may not realize that your networking is an exercise in sales, the person you’re networking with may equally not realize this. If I were to have begun tracking the referrals that the offices I worked for over the past years as to dividing into an A and B group clients who were asked to refer friends and family, and clients who were not asked, I would probably find that most referrals came from clients who were in the A group. You cannot assume, and you immediately fail when you do assume, that your clients or customers know what you’re about and what you want. Much like your need to learn about them to adequately be of benefit to them, they need to know what makes you tick. You will often see printed on business cards ‘the best thank you is a referral.’ This is a reminder to the customer/client that you want more business. You helped them, you want your clients to know that you’ll be there for their friends, family, circle of influence should the need arise.
Some of the best business relationships develop out of friendships. Or perhaps the friendships develop out of positive business relationships. Either way, while it is not essential for you to be inviting everyone that you do business with to your children’s weddings, it is important that you get to know the people who will ultimately have something to do with paying for those weddings. Get to know yourself, get to know your colleagues, and through this build stronger relationships, and a stronger network.