Business networking is all the rage and has been for quite some time. Various networking buzz words abound such as referral networking, social networking, professional networking and so on. Technically speaking, I’ve been in the “referral industry” since my elementary school days when I made my first connection to my schoolmate Ginger Lumpkin who had just discovered Barry Manilow. My mom had an album of all his greatest hits and I was able to “connect and refer.” As a result my mom gave Ginger that album (which sparked a lifelong musical love affair for her). Ginger caught up with me a few months ago while she was visiting Chattanooga and what old album was in the AirBnB? You guessed it.
Referrals: Challenging questions
But I digress. Professionally speaking, I’ve been in the referral industry for over 10 years. It’s in my blood. It’s the connection that excites me most – who do I know that can help you be more successful and move you towards your best future? However, this industry comes with its own challenges. Big questions exist like, “How well do I know the person I’m referring?” “What happens if my referral ends up being a disaster?” “What happens when I’m the one doing most of the referring to the detriment of my own financial well-being?” “How often do I need to network to keep my referral pipeline full?”
Networking: Which format is best?
And then there’s the actual task of networking to get those referrals. A Google search of the term “business networking” today produced 9.5 million results, while the term “referral networking” produced just over 414,000 results. “Referrals” produced a whopping 53.3 million results! One may ask why that’s relevant, and the answer is because there is an art to networking, and if we don’t understand how to network, we will forever be running from one networking event to the next with no hard data to show the success we’ve experienced in doing so. And may I be so bold to say that just because a well known face appears at every networking event over and over again, does not necessarily mean they are successfully living out a true referral networking model. A name is just that – the question is how is the name benefiting people in a positive manner? A person could probably spend all day every day at the number of networking events that exist, but without a clear vision and purpose, we might as well stay home.
Networking: I love you. I hate you.
Frankly, I have a love/hate relationship with networking because there are so many different belief systems as to how we should go about it. Some would say we should go to as many events and get as many connections as we can because it’s a numbers game. Others prefer to be members of exclusive referral groups where only one person from each professional category is granted membership. Still others prefer to do most of their networking online via LinkedIn or Alignable. My opinion? It’s not about the venue or the method – it’s about why and how. Once we discover and learn those two essential keys, the business of networking will transform you both professionally and personally.
As most reading this already know, I prefer the exclusive referral group method in conjunction with utilizing the online sites I mentioned above. I detest attending various “events” for the sake of “being seen.” If you see me at an event, there’s probably a really good reason for it, not because I’m “trolling.” Networking “trolls” are what give networking a bad rap. We’ve all likely experienced them. We see them at every event. They make it a point to get their business cards in everyone’s hand and may even go around the room placing their flyers and business cards at everyone’s seat. And my all time favorite – when we enter into conversation with them, they monopolize it by ensuring we know that they know all the “important” people and have an insane need to impress us. Can anyone relate? (And if you are one – stop it! Eat a slice of humble pie and drop the act and just be authentic and transparent!)
Networking: Why and How?
No matter which networking method we choose to embrace, we must know why we are networking. Obviously we all need to take care of our financial obligations, but if there’s not a bigger purpose behind our wallet, perhaps we need to take a good look in the mirror and consider there might be some spiritual and personal development we need to pursue.
We spend the majority of our lives working and we have an impact on the people we cross paths with even if we don’t realize it. The very first question I ask a business client or a student when I consult with them is “Why did you choose this line of work or field of study?” Most of the time I either receive an “I don’t know” answer or “Because I want to help people.” I continue asking why until we hit the heart of who that person is at the core. For example, I do what I do because I am all too familiar with personal tragedy and loss, and I know what it takes to rise up out of shattered dreams and innocence and get back in the game with confidence and new sense of purpose. There are many people I need to connect with to inspire them to keep moving forward. My personal “why”
The second key to successful networking is the how. There is no sugar coating this one – be a person of integrity and follow up. We need to say what we mean, do what we say, and follow up to ensure expectations were met, and if not fix it if it is within our control to do so. I have taught people over the years the how behind networking, and for me the best way to learn that is in an exclusive referral group format such as The Referrals Group. Being laser-focused on building our skills as master networkers is the secret to our own success, because Zig Ziglar was right when he said, “You will get all you want in life when you help others get all they want in life.” It’s the oxymoron of our lives – give to get.
In conclusion, as the title indicated, if we claim to be networking queens or kings, we must have “treasure” to show for it. How many lives are we positively impacting? How many clients wouldn’t know what to do if they didn’t have our expertise and help? How many people refer us to others? How many people are following our lead? How much of our true self do our family and friends get? How do we help the poor and the needy? How do we invest in the next generation? The answers to these questions and more will show us what state our treasure boxes are in. What are we filling them with?