DIY or Pay-to-Play
Networking … a Process, Not an Event
Successfully Expand Your Key Contacts Network and Become Memorable to Ensure Top of Mind Awareness
It’s not what you know … it’s who you know. That old adage is viewed by some as unfair and cynical. If that’s how you read it, get over it because it is proven time and again that you will enhance your success both personally and professionally by “knowing and being known”.
An excellent way to expand your key contacts network is through face-to-face networking with a specific focus on developing quality, mutually-beneficial business relationships that will endure. Therefore it is a skill that requires a long-term strategy, not one that anticipates instant results. A good guiding principle is that networking is connecting with people, not collecting people. That means exercising patience and persistence in your networking efforts.
There are two ways to network: do-it-yourself (DIY) or pay-to-play (dues paying groups). In this article, we’ll visit both paths with an eye to delivering comparable facts for you to decide the route most comfortable for your unique personality and networking preferences.
Goal: Regardless which avenue you choose, the objective is the same. You want to be top-of-mind with past customers, current customers, key prospects and referral partners. That means you are at the top of the list, when the question is asked, “Who do we know that does that kind of work?”
Guiding Principle: Invest your precious time only with events and groups consistent with your networking goals.
Do It Yourself (DIY)
Start by creating a contact list that is consistent with your networking objective. Start with your current circle of family, friends and acquaintances. You can start with an Excel spreadsheet, Outlook or another contact manager.
Include all pertinent contact information – name, title, company, website, office, email address and home, office and cell phone numbers. Then be diligent and update your list after every networking encounter whether it results in multiple contacts or a single introduction.
Alert: Don’t prejudge. Enter all contacts. Exclude no one, as you never know how a positive relationship may develop. One further thought. Everyone you meet may not be a valuable contact in pursuit of your networking goals, but may well be capable to introduce you to others that are.
Finally, identify those groups that will complement your efforts to reach out to those who will be key contacts and can support your networking purpose. For example, service groups are excellent sources to develop business contacts. It will require a commitment of your time and some money, but participating is a relatively easy and proven approach to networking.
Service groups are easily identified, i.e. Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, etc. Certainly, visiting several is a worthwhile introduction to the world of networking and a lesson in contributing to causes without expecting immediate personal reward. Talk with others that you know who network and add their groups to your list. Often, participation will be based on an invitation from a member to be a guest at a meeting. So, keep your ears open and ask around to identify opportunities.
Visiting a variety of networking organizations will help you to identify those that best fit your profile, plus provide opportunities to practice and hone your networking skills.
Here’s a checklist-for-success to make the most of your networking event. Caution: You are not there to sell … but rather to seek opportunities that promise reciprocal, synergistic relationships.
- Carry and distribute your business cards
- Develop and practice your “elevator speech” – a 30 second description of what you do for a living with an emphasis on how you bring solutions to pain points.
- Don’t sell! Relate!
- Initiate conversations … the easiest and best way is to ask the person about their work
- Listen, listen, listen … hear what’s being said and remember it
- Old saying, “If you don’t follow-up, you’ll foul up” – an email, handwritten note or small gift depending on the circumstances.
- Stay in touch … ideally with information that will be valuable to the person, e.g. industry news, a new development affecting her business, etc.
In this digital age your networking activities must include social media. Your choice should be consistent with the audiences you want to reach and that you will devote time to nurture. Certainly, if your business is B2B (business to business), a presence on LinkedIn is a must, as well as joining appropriate LinkedIn Groups. B2C (business to consumer) are likely to find pay dirt through Facebook and Twitter. There are others and additions seem to crop up weekly. So be alert to the current social media landscape and participate appropriately.
One final thought. Many regard Harry Garmon as the premier networker in the Greater Richmond area. Drop him a note. He’ll be happy to help you get started or turbo-charge your current networking activities. Harry@TOMCRVA.com
In Central Virginia there are four networking groups that provide support and referrals to dues-paying members. All are similar in some respects, e.g. limits on number of members; attendance requirements; and structure of meeting agenda. Here’s a brief introduction to each.
PRO emphasizes that members meet with their Team of Strategic Partners with the goal for every member to leave every meeting with actionable items that will help their business move forward.
The Synapse stated mission is to help businesses and nonprofits in communities across the U.S. connect with one another to foster greater economic and community development.
Two Twelve derives its name based on the boiling point of water. At 211 degrees, all you have is hot water. At 212 degrees, you now have steam that can move locomotives, drive industry and generate significant power.
The “granddaddy” of dues-paying network groups. Founded by Ivan Misner, BNI is best described by its motto, “Givers-Gain”.
Pay-to-Pay groups may be a way to initiate or expand your networking efforts … particularly if you are new to the Central Virginia market and/or are initiating your networking for the first time.
Note: In a tribute to the RVA professional community, PRO Richmond, Synapse and Two Twelve were developed by Richmonders who took the BNI idea and tailored groups each dedicated to networking with a specific point of view. A tribute to RVA creativity!
Long story short … be effective and efficient in investing your networking time. Networking is connecting with people, not collecting people. And above all recognize that instant results are seldom the norm. Networking is a process, not an event.