For too long, networking has been seen as the domain of the old boys club and small businesses desperately chasing new business. Recent years have, however, seen a tremendous growth in popularity of networking groups, particularly as a means of generating new business.
From a handful of networking events a decade ago, you can now network at breakfast, lunch and dinner. When you’re not at a networking event you can go online on your computer or mobile phone. I even once spoke at a 24 hour networkathon – so you can carry on through the night if you choose to!
It’s not just about the numbers
With the new popularity of networking comes a new culture. And that culture seems to dictate that the more connections you gain, the more successful your networking is. It is a culture that seems to be rooted in the belief that ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’.
As I write this, I have just had an email exchange with one of my contacts who has been complaining of ‘network fatigue’. In her opening email, she complained:
“I recently worked out that I’ve had over 300 meetings in the last 2 years and none of them have netted me any business! My work continues to come from a few close sources and referrals so I need to think differently about the way I win business.Not sure that networking really works for me!”
The truth is that networking does work for my contact, but not as she recognises it. 300 one-off meetings are unlikely to produce much in the way of business. They are transitory, the people meeting become ships that pass in the night.
Trusted relationships are the key to success
A meeting with a new contact, whether at a networking event, through an online connection or as the result of an introduction, should only be the first step in establishing a long-term relationship. Too many people place high expectation of mutual referral and support on such meetings, but if no ongoing communication is established, that one off meeting soon becomes a vague memory.
Referrals and support come from trusted relationships. Networking is not the process of attending events and connecting online. Nor is it an endless series of one-off meetings.
Networking is based on collaboration between different people, sharing their expertise and experience, their ideas and support…and their contacts, to ensure that each can achieve more than they could on their own.
That collaboration and support can only come from deep relationships and strong levels of trust. People will only want to refer you, and recognise how to, as they develop that trust over time and get to understand your business and who you service.
Networking groups and events play a role as you seek to build a broad and diverse network. Don’t, however, forget to deepen those networks and take the relationships away from events, building them over time.
After all, the power doesn’t lie in what you know, or who you know. It’s who knows you and what they say about you that makes all the difference.
This article was provided by Andy Lopata, author of Recommended. Recommended: How to Sell through Networking and referrals (published by FT Prentice Hall) is available priced £14.99 from www.recommendedthebook.com and all good bookshops.