Networking: A Business Owner’s Best Friend

I guarantee that you have heard the phrase “It’s all about who you know.” As much as we would like to discount the notion, you gotta admit, there is definitely an element of truth to this phrase. Some people take it a step further and say “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you,” which of course moves us closer to the truth of the matter. But I like to take it even further than that, and I say “It’s not who you know, but who knows what you do and how you can help.”

As a business owner, your success can depend on who you know and who the people you know know. The more people who know you, the greater chance there is of people knowing about your business and what you do and who you serve, and consequently, the greater the number of people who will think about YOU first when looking for the services that you provide. As such, networking is ESSENTIAL for business success.

When it comes to networking, simply knowing people is not enough. You have to build and maintain RELATIONSHIPS. In order to do that, you have to actually put forth an effort. And therein lies the problem, because everyone wants immediate solutions, and relationships take time. Not only time to grow, develop and strengthen, but time out of your busy life that you may or may not have readily available.

If you want someone to care about you, you need to not only stop and be interested in them and what is going on in their lives, you need to figure out how you can be of service to them as well. It’s not all about how they can help you – although most people networking act as if that’s the bottom line. I don’t remember who said it, but you’ve probably heard the expression, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Don’t turn into a used car salesman whenever you talk about your business.

I just got back from a conference with about 300+ attendees, and I probably met and got to know about 40 or 50 awesome and passionate service professionals: people that I conversed with and engaged with in a vibrant dialogue, getting to know each other and discussing what we did, and some of our struggles and how we were focused on moving forward and what our next steps were for growing our businesses bigger and better than ever, etc. It was fun and engaging and pleasant and even energizing. We laughed; we brainstormed; we connected with each other.

Then there was one person who was all about using the conference to “sell herself” and get clients. Every conversation she had revolved around her business, what she did and that everyone needed what she had. It felt very invasive and pushy. It was the difference between midnight and high noon; the difference between apple pie and cowpie. A conversation should not be one sided, and you should not come off as if it’s all about you and the only reason you would deign to have a conversation with me is because you are trying to sell me something. You need to listen, and to show interest in a person if you want to create a genuine relationship with them.

Now I suspect that she most likely didn’t realize that she was coming across that way. I’m sure she thought she was just as social and friendly and personable as everyone else at the conference. Perhaps, though, it’s time for her to grow into that lesson, or the Universe may have a stronger, more impactful way for her to learn (think the Wicked Witch of the East if you’re not sure what that “more impactful way” could be…)

The best thing you can do to develop those relationships with people is to ask questions about them, their life and their business and anything else that’s important to them. If you help people in a particular arena of their life, there’s nothing wrong with focusing your questions on that area – for example a health coach asking questions about someone’s busy life and family, and how they manage to handle the stress and overwhelm of it. Or a printer asking questions about how someone’s business is going, or inquiring about the progress on the volunteer event that the person is coordinating. In general, you don’t have to do much of the heavy lifting keeping the conversation going if you’re asking questions. And if you’re smart, you’ll pay attention to the answers. Because the way that people answer questions and talk about their lives and what’s important to them will give you tremendous insight into who they are and how you might be able to offer solutions to the problems they’re facing.

Don’t look at networking like a work activity. Look at is as a friend-ing activity. You’re making new connections, new friends, and you can never have too many friends!!

Speaking of friends, they are a great place to focus your initial networking on. They already know you, and obviously like you at least a little bit if they have stuck around long enough to become your friend. Family is another great resource because they are essentially obligated to like and support you. People who you have known for a long time and with who you have a good relationship can often sell you better than you can sell yourself. Referrals and testimonials have a ton of value, and can be extremely persuasive. They can give you a whole other level of credibility. PLUS, they have a ton of other friends who they can introduce you to or recommend you to.

People that you are close with are not the only acquaintances to keep in mind when networking. It can also be extremely beneficial to go to someone that you have met in the past. For this reason, it is important to maintain relationships with people you trust and respect. A good example of someone who may fall into this category would be one of your professors from college. People you have worked with or done services for in the past can also be great resources. You do not have to call these people on a weekly basis or pretend to be their best friend. It is as simple as making contact with them once every few months. Shoot them an e-mail asking how they are doing, or in the event that you come across something that you think they would be interested in as well, let them know. You can send a letter or card thanking them for their business if they are previous clients. Just maintain contact and make sure that you do not fall off their radar.

There are a number of ways to reach out in order to develop new relationships. One great way is through social networking sites. I know that I keep coming back to networking sites, but I can’t emphasize enough just how beneficial they can be for you and your company. With respect to networking, they are especially great because people who you don’t know can get to know you through your profile, and because there are MILLIONS of potential clients out there that spend a TON of time on them.

Joining networking clubs and/or associations that pertain to your career field is another great way to meet new people, create new relationships, hear different perspectives, and to have some fun while you are doing it all. : ) You can attend meetings, seminars or industry mixers as well.

Really, networking can be done ANYWHERE. All you need to do is embrace your outgoing side and put yourself out there. Be friendly, be real, listen, and talk about what it is that you do. You never know where you could meet potential clients or someone who can be of help to you and your business in other ways. Maybe the guy sitting next to you on the plane has a best friend who runs a website that runs great ads for really cheap. Maybe the lady doing your nails is part of a club of women who could all really use your services. Or perhaps the student you ran into at the library wants to do the same thing as you and has some really great ideas that could take your business to the next level. The point is…you never know!!

If you truly are passionate about what you do and serving those you’re meant to serve, people will see and appreciate that, and want to be a part of it.

Along with this, ALWAYS and I mean ALWAYS keep business cards with you. You can make a great connection, but the card can seal the deal. It is a constant reminder of you and your business, and of course it contains all of the contact information that anyone would need to get ahold of you. Don’t be afraid to hand one to an acquaintance, you will be happy that you did.

Networking does not need to be as difficult as it often can seem. It’s all about people skills and promoting what you love. With that, there are certainly a number of guidelines that should be taken into consideration. Don’t ever be pushy. Nobody wants something that is being pushed on them, and nobody wants to help someone that is so obviously self-serving. Do not overuse on person. If you go to the same person over time, they are going to get tired of it and begin to question your motives. SPREAD THE LOVE!! If you expect, or want help from others, you have to be willing to dish it out yourself in large helpings. It should be a give-give, and a win-win situation for all the parties involved, not just a take-take endeavor. Conform to general social rules, and be a good person, your most kind, generous and loving self, and a friend, and you should be just fine.

I recently met and had dinner with Sue Clement (a Referral Pro) at a conference, and she gifted me with her fabulous book called “Insider Secrets to Referral Success – Uncover the Power of Your Network.” (and signed it for me, too!) She really focuses on creating a “Referral Network” so if you want to take your networking to the next level, her book is a definite must-read! You can get it here: http://www.SueClement.com/referral-success-book (just click on any of the links in this paragraph to take you there)

In what ways has networking benefited YOU? I would love to hear your stories, and I’m more than happy to answer your questions. You can either click on the speech bubble on the upper right hand side of the post, or click on the reply button on the lower right hand side to leave your comment. Look forward to hearing from you.

Make it a great week!! Why not? It’s all yours!