Many people confuse networking with professional socializing. Professional socializing is connecting with people to be social rather than to drive sales. This is most easily demonstrated through the mistakes people make. Let’s look at some common mistakes people make:
- The financial advisor “networks” at the country club, but really he is prospecting and turning his friends off. His network is actually shrinking.
- The management consultant “networks” at local business gatherings like the Chamber of Commerce, but local business owners are rarely connected to his target market.
- The infant sign language instructor “networks” through political circles to the top officials in state and federal government, and wins a lot of verbal support. However, they cannot help her expand her market.
- The small business coach “networks” through the state business and life coaching association, but she fails to realize that virtually everyone in the room is a competitor, not a customer. She can’t figure out why she never gets any referrals, and concludes that “networking doesn’t work.”
Think of these examples as untargeted networking, or socializing. Don’t get me wrong—good networking is fun and it should be social, but it must also have a purpose. Key questions:
- How do you define a successful networking event?
- How do you define a good contact made at such an event?
- How many contacts do you need from events or social media to reach your goals?
If you do not know the answers to these questions, there is a good chance that your networking is at best mere research, and at worst, a waste of time.
The most important things about networking:
- Know who your prospects are, and define the indicators that suggest someone you met might have access to those prospects.
- Determine your success criteria for networking activity, and measure your results. This will help you focus, and be more disciplined about where you spend your time.
- You need to take an interest in the people themselves—this makes it sustainable and interesting.
- You need to make it long term—networks grow and ripen with age.
- Going to meetings, even networking meetings, is NOT networking. Networking is what happens after those early meetings.
- If you use networking meetings, be careful not to get into a sales pitch or a long conversation. You are there to meet people. Go meet them. Get cards, and promise to follow up. Then, do so!
- Networks are like neural pathways—the more they are used, the stronger they become. Make networking a regular part of your business, so that when you need them, the ties are strong.
- Good networks are those in which people help each other get where they are trying to go.
- So when there is time, have exploratory discussions, and see what their ideas might be. They can help you think outside your own box.
- On the other hand, ALWAYS have in mind the thing you want to ask for. Never leave that to chance. Practice it. State it. Say it over again.