[Editor’s note: Jeff’s practical blog posts on taking notes during networking have been so well received, we decided to expose you to more of his ideas. This and the next post were written before the ones on note-taking. They are a bit longer, which will catch you up. Beginning in April, he will be posting new material again. They’ll be shorter, so you have more time to practice, rather than read about it. :-) ]
I've been putting these little networking tips out there for several months now, and I do it in part because I want to clarify my own thinking about networking as a way to grow my business, and in part because I know many people are struggling with exactly how to make this whole "networking thing" work. Since it's the new year, I'm going to start over with some basics. If this is stuff you already know, please feel free to ignore it. But if you know someone who could benefit from this sort of training and explanation, please let them know about this blog or our email list and events at Cleveland Area Networking and The Job Search Center.
Why network instead of other types of marketing?
"Networking" or "referral marketing" is the name for marketing by focusing on creating mutually beneficial relationships. It is only one way to market a product or service, but it has a special advantage over other types of marketing: a strong relationship can defeat a lower price because the relationship itself has value beyond just the transaction. Put another way, people have a preference for doing business with those they know, like, and trust and networking is the process of creating and growing those relationships.
Who should network, and with whom should you network?
If you want to build relationships that are mutually beneficial, the obvious answer is you should network with those you can help, and with those who can help you. Unfortunately, it may not be that clear who those two groups are and where you can meet them. Part of the process of networking involves clarifying for others who you wish to assist, and searching for connections (called "referrals") to both those people and others who can help you.
When should you network?
There are, as my friend Lamar Ratcliffe says, two times you should be building your network:
1) Before you need a network.
2) When you need a network.
It’s always the right time to be focusing on growing relationships and helping others. How actively you do this can vary based on what stage of life, business, or job search you are currently in, but it is always worthwhile to be systematically meeting people, finding ways to sincerely connect with them, and growing your level of trust in them and their trust in you.
AND WHAT THE HECK IS THIS NETWORKING THING, ANYWAY?
Let me start with what it is not: It is not sales, and it is not network marketing.
While it can be used for both of those goals, the actual purpose of networking is the creation of valuable relationships. It is the process by which those relationships become valuable to the participants. At a basic level, it is the process used to create friendships. At a more advanced level, it is the process of creating productive, mutually beneficial relationships for business or employment.
Networking is focused on the following (in generic terms):
1) Build deeper relationships (a mile wide and an inch deep is not very useful.)
2) Provide increasing value to those relationships (by making valuable connections with those to whom one is already connected, and through other as-yet undiscovered synergies.)
3) Utilize those increasingly valuable connections to get referrals to other connections, and ultimately to gain access to a resource you have chosen (a job, a customer, an investor, some other resource.)
[Editor’s second note: If you would like to learn more from Jeff about networking how-to and get coaching from him (and Sue Nelson) in your own practice, check out the upcoming workshops HERE.]