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Business Networking doesn’t work for everyone. Or does it?

Have you ever spoken to someone in business who says “Oh yes – I tried networking once and it didn’t work for me”.

Over my years in business and having attending hundreds of networking events, I’ve heard this or a similar phrase many, many times. I’ve also been told that business networking doesn’t work for everyone and for a while I reflected on this point to see if I agree and actually, I don’t.

Now if you put it another way and say “Not everyone who does Business Networking makes it work” then that is another matter. Also, “Not all types of Business Networking events work in the same way for everyone” I can agree with that as well.

Whatever your business or profession, networking at some level can and will have a positive impact on you and your business, especially when you do it well.

Over my last 7 years in business, I have been an active member of a business referral group and I have seen numerous members come and go. Frequently I see people in the same business or profession who achieve very contrasting results from their networking activity. Why is this?

I’ve seen business owners leave declaring that networking is rubbish and a waste of time and then someone else has joined to replace them and they get so much business that they happily declare that the group has been their absolutely best source of business and they wish they had joined years earlier.

The difference isn’t their business or necessarily their professional competence. It is however their attitude. The successful networkers are the ones who commit to and embrace the qualities and values of the group. They focus on helping others first and trust that they will be helped in return. They build trust and respect and because they regularly attend the meetings and support the group and its members, including at social events, they become well known and definitely well liked by their colleagues and associates.

When you start with a great positive attitude and add to that tried, tested and proven skills and techniques of rapport building, etiquette and personal communication among others, you dramatically improve your personal effectiveness.

In terms of not all networking events working in the same way for everyone, it really is important to find groups that you feel comfortable in. Networking is a powerful and highly effective way to generate referral business, wherever you do it.

Networking isn’t a quick fix to generate immediate extra business and sales when you suddenly realise that your orders have stopped coming in. Networking isn’t a hard sell ‘close the deal’ approach to business.

Networking is a slower process for cultivating trust and nurturing contacts and connections. Networking is highly effective at generating strong personal and business relationships that will deliver long-term repeat business on recommendation and referral.

Whatever your business is, having other people tell people they know about you and being happy to refer others to you, is a benefit that will leverage your own time and resources. When you add value for and help the people you meet, many of them will help you in turn.

If however, your focus is on a quick return, ‘a fast buck’, what’s in it for me approach then networking will not deliver what you are looking for.

Why big companies need to network their staff

I recently gave my SOS Networking Skills presentation to the trainees and newly qualified young professionals in a large consultancy firm and I stressed the importance of following up after you meet someone and exchange contact details.

Following my talk I was approached by and ‘swapped’ business cards with 14 of the 40 or so delegates. I subsequently followed all of the 14 new contacts up with a mixture of phone calls, emails, letters and handwritten notes, including sending them information about events that I thought would be of particular interest and use to them.

In some cases, my ‘follow-up’ also included a personal invitation to an important business seminar that I believed would put them into direct contact with key decision makers, including Directors and CEOs from about 100 leading UK and international companies. From everything they had told me, these people are the ideal client group that they already work with as well as seek to establish new client relationships with.

What happened next was very interesting. While most people responded with at least a thank you, some didn’t communicate at all. Some people took up my offer to connect with me online via LinkedIn. Some, a very small number, responded with emails and have kept in touch ever since, via LinkedIn as well as personal thank you emails and phone calls. They have reciprocated and our business relationship has therefore developed.

Out of the 40 delegates I spoke to and made the offer to connect with, I find it particularly interesting to note that just 2 of my 14 new contacts also happen to be the people who chose to accept my invitation to attend the forthcoming business seminar. Just 2 out of 40 in the room that day saw this as an opportunity to network at a higher level and develop their skills and follow through on the opportunity to win new clients and new business for their firm.

What happened next was for me at least, even more interesting. As I connected with people within their firm on LinkedIn, I invited one of the Associates in the firm to attend the event and she accepted. This lady hadn’t attended my seminar so we are new contacts and as yet haven’t actually met in person.

Then I was asked by one of the two young professionals who had accepted my invitation if the Partner in Charge of her Department could attend, to which I naturally replied with a definite yes.

I now have 4 people from the same firm attending a key business event in their city, which will put them together in a room for half a day with at least 100 top decision makers and business leaders from their absolutely key client group. Because they hadn’t come into contact with the organisers of the event before and they personally knew nothing about it before I invited them, they now have a great new network of client contacts to work with.

Surprisingly even though they work in different departments within the same consultancy firm, in the same building, the 4 people concerned don’t all know each other and I, an outsider, have been the catalyst to introduce them as well as connect them via LinkedIn.

So what does this highlight?

For me it confirms that networking isn’t simply about getting out and meeting new contacts from other businesses and companies. Clear communication within companies is critical. The appropriate sharing of information and the building of relationships between colleagues is vital. Recognising that strategic alliances between co-workers can and will open fantastic new business opportunities, just as much and as certainly as strong contact relationships with people outside of the company will, is extremely important.

Poor communication and lack of communication leads to missed opportunities. Major companies should follow the example and thinking of this leading consultancy and network internally, just as much as they focus their attention on cultivating new relationships elsewhere.

This recent experience has also highlighted for me that the future ‘Rainmakers’ and therefore strong candidates to become future Partners for the firm, are the young professionals who are aware and alert to the value of building strong contact networks and key business relationships and they are doing it right now. Because the Partners in the firm I worked with recognise the true value of ‘getting their people talking’ consistent new opportunities and strong new relationships are established on a frequent basis.

Isn’t it interesting to note that these opportunities have come about because the firm concerned invested in the further skills development of its young professionals and ran an internal networking event.

opportunitynowhere

I attended a great event yesterday at Staffordshire University Business School called Talking Business. This was just the latest in a series of employer engagement events the Business School have organised and it was fantastic to see around 200 business people from 70 different companies in attendance and connecting while sharing experiences and opportunities.

Before and after the formal workshop presentations the organisers scheduled several open networking sessions with a Drinks and Canape Reception after the excellent keynote speaker presentation by one of the UK’s leading and best known entrepreneurs Karren Brady. The room was buzzing as guests reflected on Karren’s presentation and made great new business connections.

The challenge for me was that I had to leave almost straight away to attend an important appointment elsewhere so I was potentially missing out on the key contact making and networking time. Interestingly however I made my greatest new connection not during the open networking but in the 5 minutes sitting in the lecture theatre awaiting the start of the keynote presentation. During that time I struck up a conversation with the gentleman next to me who just happened to be a Business Psychologist from Manchester who had travelled down to take part in the event.

It turned out that he too had to leave straight afterwards and wouldn’t be attending the Drinks Reception either.

Our 5 minute conversation was enough for us to establish several areas of key mutual interest, confirm that we already have mutual business contacts with whom we are both working, exchange business cards and agree that we both wish to follow up our initial conversation with a further 121 meeting to discuss how we can help each other.

In short what could potentially have been seen as an ‘opportunitynowhere’ became a very positive and valuable ‘opportunity now here’ because we were both happy to engage in conversation while sitting next to each other in a lecture theatre rather than as many of us do, sit quietly and say nothing.

Opportunities to connect are everywhere when you tune into them. When I teach people Networking Skills I talk about my 1st Date, 2nd Date, Meet the Family Process of Networking. We had a great 1st Date and built rapport while also establishing common ground. We have agreed on a 2nd Date i.e. our 121 meeting to learn more about each other’s businesses and services and in due course, I’m positive we will progress to the Meet the Family stage where we share and make introductions to our respective business contacts to help each other further.

The critical factor is that we are both committed to following up our initial conversation. His was the only new business card I received but in terms of success for me as a networking opportunity it was tremendous. As a presenter, I was speaking to an audience of 40 – 50 people in one of the workshops, my company and personal contact details were promoted and circulated to every delegate by the University within their delegate packs and marketing information and I made a valuable new business contact during a 5 minute conversation.

This is why I am passionate about business networking as a fantastic way to develop and grow long term business opportunities. It is the best way I know to generate strong personal connections. It’s the most effective way to leverage your time and the easiest way to work smarter rather than just harder especially when you add into the process the online networking capacity of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and the many social networking resources now available.

Over my many years of networking in business I’ve recognised that successful networkers see opportunities everywhere and look at things differently. Successful networkers read ‘opportunitynowhere’ as ‘opportunity now here’ and naturally create and act upon the opportunities they see when meeting other people.

One business card from a potential 200 may seem like a low success rate for new contacts but actually when followed up properly, it is actually a great deal more valuable than 200 cards that are collected but then not contacted again afterwards. Make your new contacts count and remember that attitude and action are critical success factors in personal and business relationship building.

REMEMBER THIS

Among the greatest skills you can develop and use to exponentially boost your business opportunities, your profits and your personal career success are your abilities to build strong and meaningful relationships with people you meet.

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February 23, 2011 | Category: Networking for Profits, Why Network? — Tony Altham
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Tony Altham - Professional Speaker on Networking Success

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