What is networking?
When you think of networking do you think of sales pitches, awkward conversations and phony smiles? Or circulating business cards at meetings…
This isn’t effective networking. At heart effective networking is all about developing valuable relationships over time. Networking is about growing a pool of people who know about and value what you do.
A good network can give you resources, ideas, information, connection to potential clients, referrals, colleagues and partners for joint working. Referrals through personal contacts are a very powerful way of getting clients because referrals are based on people trusting that you will provide a great service – referrals give you both direct access to potential clients and communicate your credibility.
The power of referral is also seen online – where recommendations are becoming increasingly important. Just a quick search on Google will show you a number of social sites and business directories where recommendations are an integral part of the business online profile.
How to network?
You can network in lots of different ways – formal, informal, in person, by phone, online … but it is important to remember that you are networking rather than pitching or selling. The people in the room may not be your clients but someone they know may be.
We’ve all probably heard of the idea of 6 degrees of separation (first outlined by the psychologist, Stanley Milgram. In Milgram’s original experiment, he famously tested the idea that any two people in the world are separated by only a small number of intermediate connections. By sending packages to 160 random people, asking them to forward the parcel to the friend or acquaintance that had the best chance of getting it to a set final person, he found that people in the United States were connected via an average of 5.5 others.
Facebook’s recent research showed that as the site has grown, the degrees of separation between people has been falling. The average distance between all people on the site in 2008 was 5.28 degrees, while now it is 4.74. The Facebook analysts also found that when they just looked at people’s connections in a single country, most pairs of people are only separated by three degrees.
This shows how quickly information can travel between people – but the real power is a referral between people that know and trust one another.
To network effectively you need:
- a crystal clear idea of who your potential client is and what they need
- an offer you can express simply and clearly
- be willing to share – what you know, who you know and who you are – this is all about adding value
- focus on what you can give rather than what you want to get
- a system for keeping in touch/following up
If you look at this list, there will be at least one thing that you can do more effectively to help you get the word out about your business. So why not start changing this today?
By Sonia Thomas