The Four Streams of Your Networking RiverFebruary 1, 2011
Your business strategy comprises elements that work together toward achieving your overall goal, whether that goal is higher sales, greater profit, geographic expansion or something else. Depending on the type of business you’re running, these strategic streams might include a sales plan, a cost-cutting initiative, a training program and other elements.
In the same , when you’re developing your networking strategy, you need to think of your ideal network as a broad, powerful
Dr. Ivan Misner
In this chapter we talk about four of these streams, the four we consider particularly important to having a well-developed referral network. We don’t claim these are the only ones that exist. Some networkers, depending on the nature of their business and their own proclivities and experience, prefer to identify other kinds of organizations, such as women’s networking groups and community service organizations, as distinct types. To simplify our discussion, however, we have included these in either the casual-contact or the strong-contact category, depending on their structure and practices.
You’ve probably attended meetings of some general business groups, and in the course of these meetings you’ve probably met many businesspeople from a wide variety of professions, including competitors in your own field. Such groups typically meet once a month and hold mixers where people mingle and meet informally. There often are guest speakers, special presentations and activities such as breakfast meetings designed to facilitate networking. They are devoted mostly to discussion of community affairs, political issues and local business. The primary example of a casual-contact networking organization is the local chamber of commerce.
Because casual-contact organizations are not tailored primarily to help you get referrals, you have to exert some effort to make them work for you. For example, you can volunteer to be a chamber ambassador, a position that doesn’t cost you much time but puts you in touch with a lot of people. Sitting on committees helps you get to know members better, especially the ones who devote the most time to the organization and are therefore good candidates to become diligent, conscientious members of your own network. Most of all, you need to attend regularly so you can take advantage of every opportunity to strengthen the relationships you form.
Professional associations have been around longer than almost any other kind of group, from the medieval guilds to crafts associations to today’s professional groups and industry associations. Membership in a group is usually from one specific industry, such as banking, accounting health services, legal services or architecture. Some groups limit membership to their own industry; others are open to all, with vendors and others becoming associate members rather than full members. The primary purpose is for the exchange of information and ideas, whether intra-industry or inter-industry.
Keep in mind, however, that you’re not the only person to think of crashing the party. Some of your competitors have probably joined as well, and for the same purpose. Full members sometimes do not like being “sold” by associate members, so be careful in your approach. Remember that a master networker seeks first to help others. Go in with the idea of helping people solve problems and improve their business. By making friends first you will gain customers later, even if they are not the same people.
The other part of your knowledge network should be groups in your own industry. Yes, you’ll be rubbing elbows with competitors, but there are advantages. You’ll stay abreast of developments in your industry, find out what your competitors are up to, study the competition’s brochures and presentations, and discover opportunities to collaborate with competitors whose specialties are different from yours or who need help on a big project.
Networking is as old as civilization, and it changes and adapts as the community changes; so, naturally, you would expect networking to show up on the web as soon as the world’s second computer went online. This is pretty much what has happened in the last several years. Online business networking systems such as Ecadamy.com, Linkedln.com and Facebook.com put businesspeople in instant communication with one another, making it easier than ever before to pass along information, referrals and time-sensitive opportunities, especially over a great distance.
The main thing that online networking lacks is, with some exceptions, the face-to-face interaction that is so important to developing and deepening relationships. Although teleconferencing is growing in popularity and technical sophistication, there’s nothing like sitting down to breakfast or lunch with a contact to deepen a friendship or a business relationship. For this reason, we recommend online networking as an adjunct to traditional networking, to be used after the relationship is established and with the purpose of getting in touch quickly and passing referrals efficiently. Online networking is hard to beat when used for purposes best suited for communicating ideas, sharing knowledge and raising your visibility to a larger group of contacts.