By Goke Ilesanmi
“Networking” has different definitions. One of these is that it is the practice of meeting other people involved in the same kind of work or business, to share information, support each other, etc. Another definition is that it is a conversation with a purpose – a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas, positive energy, advice, referrals, leads or contacts. If you ask twenty different people what networking is all about, you may get as many as twenty different answers. Therefore, a person’s definition of networking depends on his or her use of this very effective strategy. The fact remains that whether you network to get sales leads, find a new job, have new friends, enhance your career or get referrals, you need to focus on networking as an exchange of information, experience or contacts.
Need for circle expansion
With all the demands on our time made by our business as well as personal life, there is tendency to want to assign little attention to networking. But attempting to do this is wrong because we are constantly being introduced to new people every day, with no disruption to our schedules. Another reason is that by not consistently widening our circles of acquaintances and contacts, we may be severely curtailing our chances of success. It is estimated that an average person should know about 250 people. And each of these people should know another 250 people or thereabouts. This means that for each new person you meet, you gain access to a potential pool of 62,500 people separated from you by just some distance, email or phone calls.
Buzzy Gordon, the founder and leader of the Strategies for Retiring Young, Soon, and Generously Wealthy Network says, “Imagine the odds, then, that out of so many people, you would NOT find one person who would be a source of information about a better job, additional clients or customers, a speaking engagement or writing assignment, an investment opportunity, where to shop for better value, and much more. In all likelihood, you would find many more than one.”
Moment of conscious decision
It takes only a moment of conscious decision to become a networker, with no interference to one’s daily routine. All it requires is a slight shift in attitude, and adopting one simple rule: Greet each new acquaintance with an openness to learn more about him or her, a willingness to help and an offer to stay in touch. This approach is equally applicable to every form of networking, whether in business or social contexts, and whether the encounter takes place in person or online.
As a salesperson, for instance, through networking, you develop relationships that logically lead to sales. The idea behind networking is that people make mutually beneficial contacts. In the words of Barry Farber, a sales expert, president of Farber Training Systems, Inc., and author of Superstar Sales Secrets, “You can go to a meeting and hand out your business cards to everyone you meet. That’s not networking. The best method is to forget about your own agenda and find out about the other person’s. Then you can determine whether or not the person is a potential prospect and figure out how best to present your ideas.”
Mariette Edwards, a business and career strategist corroborates this assertion by saying, “Contrary to what many believe, networking events are not about pressing your business card into as many hands as you can. They (networking events) are, however, great opportunities to learn about what other people are looking for. As you listen, you will find that what you offer may be exactly what the other person seeks.”
Connecting with centres of influence
To succeed in your networking, you must be conscious of centres of influence. Anyone who is in the business of finding prospective clients must have heard about the importance of building relationships with centres of influence. Unfortunately, most marketers have had little success with this concept. Why? To start with, many of them do not even know someone who could be considered a true centre of influence. A centre of influence refers to someone who is influential, has a large network as well as a desire to enhance your success.
In the words of Michael Beck, president of Exceptional Leadership, Inc., a firm which develops exceptional leaders, “For most of us, when we talk about leveraging our network, we’re not really looking to develop centres of influence as much as looking to develop a network of business associates who can generate referrals and leads for us. This is an important distinction. A true centre of influence is in the habit of connecting people, whereas a business associate is not in that habit and therefore needs different things from you.” Note that a referral refers to when a prospective client is “referred” to you. But a lead refers to when you are told about a prospective client who has a potential need and you call him or her.
If you like to network from the comfort of your home or office, you can join an online business networking community. Many of them have sub-networks focused on topics of particular interest to you. Additionally, you can look at others’ profiles and prioritise accordingly. In mailing lists and discussion boards, look for postings by someone who seems to be knowledgeable about the topic being discussed. Note his or her email address at the top, and look for signature information citing his or her organisational affiliation, position in the organisation, and more complete contact information.
As regards social networking sites, experts advise that you limit yourself to contacts with whom you can claim a valid (if limited) connection – you are both former employees of XYZ, you are both graduates of XYZ, you are both members of XYZ association, mailing list, or discussion group. If you cannot make any of these claims but you know someone on their network who is also on your network, ask that person to introduce you.
It pays to network in person and sharpen your communication skills. Practise making friendly conversation. Even if no relationship develops with that person, he or she will likely remember you as a nice person if asked about you at some point in the future. Marketing yourself through networking is critical to your career and professional success. Therefore, it is not sufficient to rely on your skills and knowledge alone. People can be your guide to getting the right job or business opportunity. Till we meet on Wednesday.
NOTE: The duration of the public speaking seminar has been greatly reduced as requested, in addition to other adjustments. You will find the programme on the right side at the upper part of my website. Click on the text and see details. I appreciate your suggestions and requests.
GOKE ILESANMI, Editor-in-Chief/CEO of www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng and Managing Consultant/CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is a Certified Public Speaker/Emcee, (Business) Communication Specialist, Motivational Speaker, Career Management Coach, Renowned Book Reviewer, Corporate Leadership Expert and Editorial Consultant.
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