Today, people network by joining clubs, going to lunch with friends, attending conferences and workshops, joining industry associations and going to alumni dinners and reunions; others network with church members, school buddies and community organisations.
But what do these activities help them achieve in return for their time and effort? Are they worth the investment? In other words, is there a right and a wrong way to network?
An activity with a purpose
From a marketing perspective, networking provides much more than the short-term gains associated with new business leads or referrals. It provides several benefits, such as:
Knowledge. If you are an executive who believes that you can learn from the experiences and successes of others, networking provides a vehicle to gain knowledge and to apply it to your organisation. The key is to ask questions and listen to others.
Resources. Networking is an excellent way to gain access to resources that might be hard to find, (from inside or outside your industry).
Positioning. Networking is an indirect strategy that allows you to favourably position your organisation by influencing those who influence the decision-making process.
It is noted that "10% of the people in an industry influence the other 90%. If a company can win the hearts and minds of the most important 10%, its market position is assured."
Opportunity. You can use networking to position yourself or your organisation to take advantage of being at the right place at the right time. For example, you can serve as a keynote speaker (demonstrates your expertise), publish an article (will be circulated), or be active in an association (gives you visibility); any of these increase the likelihood of meeting people that can assist you.
A word of caution: You must first provide value without any expectations of receiving benefits.
Referrals. These come in many forms and from many sources. For example, you work for a respected individual or company. At a later date, during a business presentation, you casually drop their name in the course of a discussion (without giving any details) which leads your potential client to think: "If it was good enough for them, it's good enough for me."
There are other types of referrals, (and basic rules), in using a firm or individual's name, (with their agreement), to endorse your product or service and reference from a satisfied client.
Networking provides a chance to question or solve small problems and to discover whether competitors are making inroads.
Leads. It is a source of leads - people will watch out for new business opportunities and then alert you to them.
In order to be part of a successful network, you must follow these few rules:
- Do not wait until you desperately need a network to begin developing one.
- Get involved and be an active participant.
- Seminars, conferences, workshops and association committee meetings are not a substitute for one-on-one meetings.
- Do not collect business cards for the sake of collecting - use them to help you or your business.
- Successful networks change and evolve, expand and contract; and must be cared for by all members.
If you make networking a part of your life, you will find yourself part of a larger, richer world filled with new relationships, new opportunities and vast resources.
It will be a world in which you will constantly meet new people that you enjoy and admire.
People who can learn from you and from whom you can learn, and people who are willing to lend an ear when things are going wrong or who will give you a pat on the back when they are going right.
Those who know how to network swear by it. I do.