Getting in touch with people for the purpose of “networking” – especially if you haven’t been in contact for a while can feel “off.”
It can bring up all kinds of stuff around:
- bothering people, being a pest
- using people
- asking for stuff, being needy
- being seen as desperate
When you look at it like that, it can be hard to pick up the phone or shoot someone an email.
Here’s some perspective that might help.
1. Networking. Not prospecting.
Networking is about forming business relationships for mutual benefit. Prospecting is looking for new clients. These are different activities, with different intentions and they each need a different approach.
I often hear this complaint: “When I go to networking events everyone there is trying to sell me something. No one wants to buy.”
That’s not networking, that’s prospecting. (Also: “networking” is not limited to “attending networking events” – you can network without even leaving your house!)
Both activities can be very helpful to your business. This article will focus on networking (although some of this advice can work for prospecting as well!)
Now that we know what we’re talking about…
2. Good networking partners will “get it”
Your best networking contacts are going to understand how networking works and will be actively working to build their own networks.
They will understand that OF COURSE you want more clients. Of course you have an “agenda” in reaching out. They have an agenda in responding. Some of your networking contacts may become close personal friends. Most will not. You are networking to create business relationships.
Which means you don’t have to pretend that you’re reaching out for some other reason and then try to think of a way to sneakily segue into business. You can be up front with your reasons for connecting. Yay for honesty!
If your business is a good match for theirs – if they serve a similar market but offer different services, if your values and ethics are in alignment and you mesh personality-wise – there’s a good chance they’ll be delighted to hear from you.
This is especially true if they are less well established. Imagine for a moment that the situation was reversed: wouldn’t you just love to have that person you want to connect with reach out to you first?
3. Networking is for mutual benefit
If you’re thinking about networking only in terms of “what you can get” then you’re forgetting that networking is a reciprocal relationship.
Consider: what can you offer?
I refer clients to you – and you refer clients to me. This is a common networking exchange – especially between professional sales people who spend most of their days talking to people. If you have a limited network or you “don’t get out much” then you may feel you don’t have anything to offer.
Mutual benefit means that both parties get something positive from the relationship. The benefits don’t need to be exactly the same.
You can “feed” your networking partners in different ways:
- Offering ideas, advice, help and support
- Sending relevant information (articles, events, etc.)
- Connecting them to other networking partners
- Sharing their information on social media or commenting on their blog posts
Before you pick up the phone or sit down to write that email, think about how you can HELP the other person.
Don’t know? “How can I help you?” is a great question to ask.
4. You don’t need a huge network. It’s OK to be discerning.
A lot of networking advice comes from a very extroverted perspective. One of the first books I read about networking outlined a system for keeping in close contact with 1,000 people. One. Thousand.
You may have heard things like: it’s a numbers game, never say no to an invitation to network, never eat alone, etc. In other words, spend every waking hour talking to people.
No thank you.
You can also network introvert style. Build close relationships with a smaller number of people. This means:
- You don’t have to follow up with everyone you meet – choose the people you WANT to get to know better
- You don’t have to accept every “coffee invitation” (especially if said invitation comes from someone with a “but it’s not an MLM!” business)
- You don’t have to refer or promote people if the fit isn’t good.
- You can eat alone. (Email me if you’d like a permission slip for this!)
It also means that your outreach efforts can be personal. Sending the same templated email request for help to everyone in your contact list may be efficient, but it’s not necessarily effective.
5. Invest in the relationship
The best networking relationships stem from really getting to know the other person. This takes time and intentional investment in growing the relationship. Going deep instead of keeping things on the surface.
Here are some ideas:
- Holding a workshop or event? Invite your networking partners (for no charge) so they can experience what you do and how you work.
- Exchange services so that you get to know and understand each others work. NOT with the intention to sell the other person. (I wouldn’t have thought I’d have to clarify that – but apparently offering to exchange services and then using your turn to conduct an “enrollment conversation” is becoming common in some circles.)
- Get together (by phone or in person) on a regular basis
- Become “accountability partners” or form a mastermind group. Help each other out with ideas, feedback and suggestions.
I used to believe that exposing your “business flaws” or admitting to struggling with something would diminish “referrability.” (Ack! Now that they know I’m not perfect – they’ll never send business to me!)
I’ve found the opposite to be true. When I facilitated mastermind groups – lots of referrals took place – even though “networking” was explicitly NOT the intention of the group. It just sprung naturally from the know, like and trust that developed through honesty and mutual support.
You don’t have to do anything that makes you feel “icky”
When I say “icky” – I don’t mean “worried about being rejected” or feeling vulnerable. These feelings come as a natural part of forming human relationships – and that’s what networking really is.
I’m referring to advice and practices that don’t feel authentic to you or go against your values.
Choose your networking partners wisely. Select people with similar values and a similar approach to business. Network in a way that is mutually beneficial and fits your personality.
You might even wake up one day to discover that you really LIKE networking.