Networking – or building better business relationships – is one of those essential skills that no one ever learns in school. Some folks are natural networkers – they meet people easily, gain trust quickly, and forge fast friendships. But most of us have to work at it.
Why bother? Because business is always about people. You will only succeed in business if you know how to meet people, how to connect with them, and how to gain their ongoing friendship and support. This applies not just to customers, but to co-workers, suppliers, consultants and associates, and hundreds of potential prospects, mentors, advisors, partners and friends.
We all know people who have sworn off networking, because they say it doesn't work. But that's usually because they don't know how to do it!
Networking isn’t just about schmoozing people so they will buy from you. Business relationships pay off in many ways, many of them unknown and invisible to us now. When you neglect to turn an acquaintance into a trusted contact, who knows what future opportunities you are tossing away?
Yesterday I had a coffee meeting with someone I just met the day before. We hit it off and now plan to do a very cool project together. Other people aren't strangers; they're allies you haven't met yet.
And I would never have met him had I not made friends 10 years ago with yet another new acquaintance, who’s the one who invited me to yesterday’s event. Developing and building new relationships in business may not change your life right away, but will pay off continually over time.
Think back to your recent business successes, large or small. Chances are they were initiated or abetted by people who recently passed the “acquaintance” level and became trusted colleagues. Business is all about adding value – and building your network is the best way to add value for your clients, employer, employees and other partners.
Why do I say that most people aren't very good at “networking”? Because it’s so much more than sizing up strangers based on their potential to become customers. You need to see the bigger picture – and then you need a plan.
The best way to succeed in any aspect of business is to develop a strategy and follow it. But when it comes to networking, almost no one bothers to plan. Expecting people to come to you with great ideas or open wallets isn’t networking. It’s standing in a corner waiting for someone to talk to you.
Today’s business leaders need a better vision of relationship-building. One rooted in the fact that business is a team sport. Each of us needs the most supportive team we can find. So networking is the process of putting together that team.
And remember – you're just one player on the team. It’s not all about you. It’s about how you and your team-mates can help each other.
Many people don't understand this. Even Dictionary.com defines networking as “cultivating people who can be helpful to one professionally.” That definition seems to assume that networking is selfish and narrow. It may sound appealing at first. But most adults have already learned that relationships based on grabbing sole advantage never last. No one wants to hang out with a bloodsucking vampire.
And you may have noticed that the selfish quarterback gets sacked by the other team much more often than the quarterbacks who respect their teammates and share the credit. You want your teammates to have your back.
So here’s the definition of networking that we use at Connectinc: Interacting and sharing with other people to develop lasting personal and business relationships of mutual benefit.
True networking means thinking not just about how people can help you, but how you can help them. Everyone needs information, resources, feedback, contacts and encouragement. Each of us can help each other by sharing our own experiences, our solutions, our network. And we can create lasting value for others by maintaining active, long-term relationships.
Make no mistake: networking is a powerful tool for personal advancement and profit. But a network exists for every member’s benefit – not just your own. Create value for others, and you’ll be planting seeds that will bloom and grow throughout your long and successful career.
Want more? Rick Spence and Barbara Katz are holding a free webinar on Tues. Sept. 26, at 1 pm and 7 pm EDT. We’ll share our seven best networking tips and take ALL your questions on relationship building, improving your confidence, mastering small talk, understanding "opening lines", and much more - including the best ways to follow up. For more information, click HERE for 1 pm. Or click HERE for 7 pm.
Connectinc offers tips and strategies for building your social capital through stronger business relationships. Follow us on Twitter at @connectinc_