Networking is a skill, like any others, which means that it needs to be practiced on a regular basis. But what is networking? Is it really just the stereotypical meeting with people exchanging business cards and pithily offering their latest elevator speeches, or is there more to networking?
I would suggest that there’s a lot more to networking than just attending networking meetings and that many networkers miss out on lots of opportunities, because what they are actually doing is less of networking and more of socializing. Socializing is part of networking, but networking extends deeper than that. The purpose of networking is to create connections between different people with different needs. It’s not just a social event, but rather a way to create community.The problem with many networking groups is that there is a tendency to focus on the superficial aspects of small talk and handing out business cards. The focus tends to be more on what each person does, and much less on finding out what other people need. In fact, when I ask people what they need at a networking event, they often are surprised at the question and initially struggle to answer it, because it asks them to be vulnerable and open with me, as opposed to relying on the traditional small talk that goes with most networking events. Small talk, however, avoids creating opportunities and ultimately makes networking less successful than it could or should be.To make networking a success, at some point the networker needs to realize that networking is less about being social and more about solving problems by making connections between people and the situations those people are in, with other people qualified to solve the problems. We need to cut through the small talk and focus on actually developing real relationships with other people, which means asking questions that go beyond what do you or what’s your job? The following suggestions are made from my own experiences of trying to take my networking to a new level.1. Ask what do you need? It’s a very direct question. I often notice that people will be surprised at this question and have to think for a moment or two, but will then respond with a lot of details about what they do need…and what they need won’t always be related to getting clients, but could still be just as important to their business or even personal situation.2. Pay close attention to what they say or what they do. I once heard a networking partner say his back was sore. I asked him if he wanted a referral to an acupuncturist or chiropractor, and he was very grateful for the suggestions and followed up with them. Another time, a tattoo store owner had his store tattooed by a graffiti artist and said he needed security cameras. I put him in touch with someone who could meet his needs. Pay attention to what people say and do about their problems. It will help you make connections for them, especially if they are in a situation, which evokes an emotional response. Being able to see and make connections when they can’t, can really help them out.3. Ask people to tell you about problems they solve. By learning what types of problems people solve, you can then think of those people when a similar problem arises and refer business to those people. Additionally the people who are experiencing the problem will be grateful for your quick response. Knowing the types of problems people solve also gives you better insight into what they actually do and helps them think about the clients they’ve worked with in the past.4. Go out to lunch or have some people over for dinner. Networking isn’t about giving out business cards; it’s about creating relationships. Spend time getting to know people you network with outside of the usual networking meetings. Doing so will give you an opportunity to learn more about them, beyond just a job title or what they do. You’ll learn useful information, and also build a stronger relationship.5. Follow-up on your promises. I always follow up later the very day I’ve met the person, with an email and a linkedin and (where applicable) Biznik invitation. Also if I know that I can help the person, I make connections happen both way, by passing the contact information to each person. I don’t give contact information to just one person, because if that person is busy or overwhelmed, he or she won’t think about contact the other person, even if that person could help him/her. By passing contact info to both people, I improve the chances that a connection will happen, and that problems will get solved.Networking is more than chamber of commerce meetings or leads group meetings. Networking is a frame of mind, with a perspective that focuses on figuring out how to help different people you know solve problems they have. The business that you get will come about as a result of showing people that you know how to help them with their situations. They will feel taken care of, and will consequently take care of you. So move past the what do you do question, and ask what do you need…and start solving problems by making connections. When you do that, you’ll be a successful networker.Contribued by Taylor Ellwoodhttp://www.imagineyourreality.comhttp://www.imagineyourreality.com/blog“I teach businesses how to automate their social media marketing presence and work on themselves.Business and Social Media Coach