Are you Networking or Not-Working?

by Dan Kuschell

   When done properly, networking is one of the most effective ways to build your business. Unfortunately, most people who claim to be networking are really not-working and not building the pipeline for future business. They use events as a time to merely socialize, and they never take the initiative to build their "net."
   Those who choose to not-work rather than network rarely attain success, because the future belongs to those who build their network of contacts. In fact, our greatest business asset is the network we have � the people we know or know of. Imagine if you had a database containing every person you've ever met over the course of your life. How many hundreds of thousands of people would you have as your ally and potential customer? That's precisely the kind of network every ISO needs to have.

Network Your Way to Millions

   A common business mantra states, "It's not what you know; it's who you know." True professionals take this one step further. They proclaim, "It's not who you know; it's who they know." How many people do you know of right now? 50? 100? 250? 500? 1000? 5000? 10,000? If each of these people knows just 50 people each, then you have access to hundreds of thousands of people. Make no mistake: one key developed relationship combined with the right idea can make you successful.
   Networking in today's business climate has become more important than ever. In fact, networking is quite possibly the best investment you'll ever make. It helps in the short run and assures long-term stability because you are building your business on a solid foundation.
   Traditional networking involves tapping into your contacts and circles of influence to spread your ideas. This enables you to not only generate new business, but it also helps you find the best suppliers and vendors to do business with. Networking with experienced professionals in your field can save you time and money as you gain advice from those who have been in similar situations.

Stand Out From the Crowd

   If you want to network effectively and attain the best results, here are a few keys to help you stop "not-working" and start networking:

Identify key organizations to be a part of.

   In order to stay current with happenings in your industry, you need to be a part of key industry organizations that address specific challenges you may encounter and that lobby on your behalf. These may be national organizations that have local chapters, or even state or local industry groups that meet monthly or quarterly. Get involved with these groups by offering your services at events. Stay current by reading any newsletters or other informational materials they put out. Also, don't forget to join your local Chamber of Commerce or other local professional organizations. Even though these groups don't deal specifically with your industry, you'll be able to make some great local contacts who can guide you towards specific products or services you need to build your business.

Identify the top people locally and nationally in your organizations.

   Every organization has a few key people who are the "stars" of the organization. Introduce yourself to these people at the next event. They often have a large database of contacts and can steer you in any direction you need to go. How can you identify these people? They are the ones who are in the news, who author industry newsletter columns, who speak at events, and who always have a large crowd of people around them. Get these key people on your side. Help them network with your contacts so you can network with theirs.

Become genuinely interested in others.

   Realize that no one will want to network with you if they sense you're just in it for the business. You need to have a genuine interest in those you meet so you can develop the relationship properly. You can build rapport with people in seconds by asking them some key questions such as, "What do you do?" "What do you like most about your career or industry?" "What do you like least?" "Where are you from?" "What is the perfect client for you?" Etc. As you talk with the other person, listen to what he or she is saying and offer solutions to their challenges whenever you can.

Have your 15-second commercial ready.

   When people ask you what you do for a living, answer as informatively and succinctly as possible. Think of it as your 15 seconds of fame and recite your 15-second commercial. Here's an example of a great 15-second response to the "What do you do" question: "Do you know how companies and individuals have sales that are lagging? What I do is show companies how to create explosive growth in their business." When you state your 15-second commercial correctly, you'll prompt the other person to ask, "How do you do that?" Now you can begin a conversation.

Become a servant leader in your industry.

   Contribute your talents and offer to help others whenever you can. Always ask those you are networking with "How can I help you and your business?" While you may not be able to personally offer the service or product they need, you may be able to refer them to others who can help. When you direct people to others who can help, you become known as a "connector" � someone who connects the right people together. At that point, you'll become a valuable information source and someone others will want to network with.

Build a database for all your contacts.

   No matter how good your memory is, you'll never be able to remember every person you meet while networking. As you gather business cards from others, enter their names, contact information, and any other relevant data into a database or contact management software program. Be sure to categorize each person according to what product or service they offer. Then, whenever you need someone who supplies legal services, for example, you simply type "legal" into your software program, and all your contacts who work in the legal field will appear. This will save you time, as you'll no longer have to flip through a stack of business cards to find the service provider you need.

Communicate regularly with the contacts in your database.

   "Out of sight; out of mind." In business, that's certainly a true statement. Don't let your networking contacts forget about you. You want them to keep you at the top of their list so they can refer you to others. A good way to stay in touch with people is to produce a monthly e-mail newsletter filled with tips and articles related to your industry or to business in general. This will give your contacts a constant reminder of who you are. And for those really good networking contacts, call them at least once a month to touch base and keep each other informed of what's going on.

Networking Success Can Be Yours

   Networking is more than just superficial "hellos" and socializing. It is an integral part of any marketing program that provides long-term stability in business today. When you nurture your network correctly, you will build alliances with other business professionals who will gladly promote your product or service to their customers. And that's a network worth telling others about!