Diane Helbig is a staff writer for Small Business Trends and an internationally recognized business and leadership development consultant, author, speaker, radio show host, and workshop facilitator. Her 2015 article, “The 59 Commandments of Business Networking” is gold. She states, “Business networking is one of the most effective marketing and prospecting tools you can use to grow your business…done incorrectly, it can actually be harmful to your business.” I couldn’t agree more.
Types of Networkers: We’ve all seen various networkers in our spaces. There’s what I refer to as the blackjack dealer who makes it their mission to get their business card and/or marketing materials in every person’s hands. Then we have the narcissistic networker who makes the entire conversation about them, their business, and how great they are. There’s also the serial networker who is at every function, every event, every networking opportunity and everyone knows their name and face, but never truly connects or knows exactly what they do. The wallflower shows up, but sits in the corner or only hangs out with their small circle they know and never reaches out to meet anyone new. Finally, we have the authentic networker who is intentional and focused on helping others. They’ve developed a reputation of trust and reciprocity and they always try to add value with every interaction they have. With that in mind, after reading through Helbig’s article, I’d like to highlight a few key points for networking at events, referral groups, and social settings. I encourage you to read her entire article to see which ones you identify with (link located at the bottom of this article).
Business Networking Commandments
Events: From preparation to follow up, these commandments help you get intentional so you’re not just showing up. It’s important to do your research about the organizations who hold these events. There are so many to choose from (social, alumni, hard contact, casual contact, service-based, informal, industry specific, etc). Ask yourself if you resonate with their purpose and mission. Can you be “all in,” meaning, do you have the time and energy to be fully involved? Don’t do it halfway. Be #fullypresent.
Register for and treat the event like a business meeting. Stay off your phone. Fully engage conversations. Ask for business cards, but don’t hand yours unless they ask you. Don’t ever put people’s emails from business cards in your newsletter campaigns, etc. Ask open-ended questions about them and their business. Never assume they will do business or give you referrals. Those activities require a relationship of trust, and you can’t build that in 5 minutes.
Referral Groups: Helzig states they work best for growing your business when you approach it from the attitude of what you can give and contribute to the group. Zig Ziglar has taught us all a great lesson about reciprocity in the form of being focused on helping others first. Over time, it will come back to you. Look for referral groups that focus on the quality of the member at the table and require accountability for the referrals being passed. Never expect members to personally do business with you. Remember they probably already have long-established relationships, but are more than willing to introduce you to their extended networks once they gain your trust. Always provide quality referrals and always follow up with referrals you are given. Treat them like gold!
Social: Being a part of a social network can result in some business activity over time. But it’s important to follow the rules and never spam that network. These networks often revolve around passions or interests such as hiking, art, music, self-improvement workshops, travel, etc. Don’t sell, don’t self-promote, don’t feel obligated. People choose to do business with other people they know, like, and trust. Share information. Be a good resource. Listen. Show interest. People can pick up on unauthentic motives. Don’t be “that guy.”
Helzig goes on to say, “Although increased sales is the end goal, don’t participate in business networking to sell. Find and develop relationships with people you can help and who can help you. When we detach ourselves from the emphasis we tend to put on selling, we actually improve our ability to build relationships. The sales will come naturally from there.”
Link to Helzig’s article here.