Success Discoveries for Social Networking

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Even with unemployment on the rise, you may be thinking you are in a good position. No risk of you losing your job, right?. So networking is probably way down on your priority list. If you are recently unemployed, you may be in shock, perhaps wondering just how you are going to rebound in this bad economy.

Regardless of your personal situation, may I suggest you raise networking on your priority list. If you are in a strong, secure situation, then you are in a position to help others. Why do that if everything is good? Because I haven’t met anyone who made it through their entire life/career without at some point needing their network. So if there were ever a good time in the last century to decide to help others, this is it. One of the best ways to be effective at helping others is to network - make yourself accessable to others by interacting with others. 

For some, especially those in professional sales, networking is second nature. But for most, Networking (with a capital N) is one of those tasks that never seems to take center stage until we are desparate. Then, when you actually do some networking, it tastes bad. It doesn’t feel right.

There is a reason it doesn’t feel right or tastes bad. It’s because you have the wrong purpose behind the networking.

Business networking is the process of establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with other business people (ideally your peer group) and potential employers, clients and/or customers.

Notice that I don’t say anything about meeting people in this definition; the ever-increasing slew of business networking meet-and-greet events have given business networking a bad name - bad results.

The key to true business networking is the establishment of a mutally beneficial relationship, and that’s an incredibly rare event at the standard shake-hands-and-exchange-your-business-card events that are touted as business networking “opportunities”.

The purpose of business networking is to increase business relationships - one way or another - so that revenue/income increases. The thickening of the bottom line can be immediately apparent, as in developing a relationship with a new client, or developed over time, as in learning a new business skill.

The best business networking groups operate as exchanges of business information, ideas, and support. The most important skill for effective business networking is listening; focusing on how you can help the person you are listening to rather than on how he or she can help you is the first step to establishing a mutally beneficial relationship.

What about networking online? Online networking is a unique form of business networking and can be extremely valuable if done properly. The Discovery Channel online site has a great article listing the top 10 social networking sites. The one I recommend is LinkedIn, listed as #3 behind Facebook (for the younger, student demographic) and Twitter, a relatively new texting network that doesn’t fit networking as I’ve defined it in this article. Another that isn’t listed but seems to have a good following is Plaxo. I’m on both.

Success Discoveries for Networking (Online) is an offering by Success Discoveries to help you get a jump start on networking - both online and in-person networking. To learn more click on the image.

Read Mark McGregor’s article on The 10 Commandments of Networking: Getting the Most Out of Business Networking

The trick with networking is to become proactive. This means taking control of the situation instead of just reacting to it. Networking requires going beyond your comfort zone and challenging yourself.

For “live, in-person” networking, try these tips:

  1. Set a goal to meet five or more new people at each event. Whenever you attend a group, whether a party, a mixer or an industry luncheon, make a point of heading straight for people you don’t know. Greet the newcomers (they will love you for it!). If you don’t make this goal a habit, you’ll naturally gravitate toward the same old acquaintances.
  2. Try one or two new groups per month. You can attend almost any organization’s meetings a few times before you must join. This is another way to stretch yourself and make a new set of contacts. Determine what business organizations and activities you would best fit into. It may be the chamber of commerce, the arts council, a museum society, a civic organization, a baseball league, a computer club or the PTA. Attend every function you can that synergizes your goals and customer/prospect interaction.
  3. Carry your business cards with you everywhere. After all, you never know when you might meet a key contact, and if you don’t have your cards with you, you lose out. Take your cards to church, the gym, parties, the grocery store--even on walks with the dog.
  4. Don’t make a beeline for your seat. Frequently, you’ll see people at networking groups sitting at the dinner table staring into space--half an hour before the meal is due to start. Why are they sitting alone? Take full advantage of the valuable networking time before you have to sit down. Once the meeting starts, you won’t be able to mingle.
  5. Don’t sit by people you know. Mealtime is a prime time for meeting new people. You may be in that seat for several hours, so don’t limit your opportunities by sitting with your friends. This is a wonderful chance to get to know new people on either side of you. Sure, it’s more comfortable to hobnob with familiar faces. But remember, you are spending precious time and money to attend this event. Get your money’s worth; you can talk to your friends some other time.
  6. Get active. People remember and do business with leaders. Don’t just warm a chair--get involved and join a committee or become a board member. If you don’t have time, volunteer to help with hospitality at the door or checking people in. This gives you a reason to talk to others, gets you involved in the inner workings of the group, and provides more visibility.
  7. Be friendly and approachable. Pretend you are hosting the event. Make people feel welcome. Find out what brought them there, and see if there’s any way you can help them. Introduce them to others, make business suggestions or give them a referral. Not only will you probably make a friend, but putting others at ease eliminates self-consciousness. A side benefit: What goes around comes around. If you make the effort to help others, you’ll soon find people helping you.
  8. Set a goal for what you expect from each meeting. Your goals can vary from meeting to meeting. Some examples might be: learning from the speaker’s topic, discovering industry trends, looking for new prospects or connecting with peers. If you work out of your home, you may find your purpose is simply to get out and talk to people face to face. Focusing your mind on your goal before you even walk into the event keeps you on target.
  9. Be willing to give to receive. Networking is a two-way street. Don’t expect new contacts to shower you with referrals and business unless you are equally generous. Follow up on your contacts; keep in touch; always share information or leads that might benefit them. You’ll be paid back tenfold for your thoughtfulness.