As you expand your personal and business network, you will inevitably decide whether you are more interested in casting a wide net or building in-depth relationships with fewer people. The two strategies are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I suggest that you do both simultaneously. Social media allows us to literally build a world-wide network if we choose to do so. However, sites such as Twitter might allow us to have thousands of “followers” but we might not really know our followers at all. At the other end of the breadth/depth continuum lies the strategy of getting to know fewer people deeply and to have significant face-to-face contact with them. For example, how many groups do you join and how much time do you spend on each of them?
The two approaches are complementary. For example, many organizations have chapters. You might belong to one chapter and attend the monthly (or weekly) meetings on a regular basis. By only attending your home chapter, you meet a limited number of people. If the organization allows you to attend other chapters as a guest, you can expand your network and meet many more people. You might not get to know all of these additional contacts very well, but you can “go deeper” over time.
I recommend a kind of happy medium, wherein you get to know a certain number of people more intimately, but also continue to expand your network beyond that. Ultimately you have to make certain choices and make referrals and introductions to people that you know, like and trust. Loyalty is important, and you shouldn’t let the broad network preclude sharing business contacts with people with proven records. The decision about whether to primarily establish a deep or wide network will depend on the nature of your business and the amount of time you allot to in-person networking and social media. What is your strategy and is it working for you? What is your position on the breadth/depth spectrum?
I often hear some people in networking circles disparagingly refer to people as “vendors.” I respond that virtually everyone is selling something, whether it be legal services, financial products, accounting expertise, or relocation services. I contend it is the person not the career category that is important in considering someone’s potential value as a networker. Some “elite” networking groups place a high value on the legal profession, and a correspondingly low value on so-called vendors. While this may be true in a general sense, there could well be a “vendor” who has a wide sphere of influence, and a big firm attorney with a narrow one who provides virtually no referrals, introductions, or ultimate value.
Because of my profession as a Manager of Corporate Relocations, I have often been judged as unworthy of high level networking. However, do those who judge really know who I know and how I might be able to provide value to them as a networking partner? Are they merely judging a book by its cover? When I first applied to membership in a prestigious networking organization, I was rejected primarily on the basis of my profession. I didn’t take the rejection personally, because I knew the reasons. I was ultimately accepted, and ended up writing a book on networking and became an expert in the field of networking and social media. In addition, I am now leading my own group.
I understand why people make judgments about others based on their perceived expertise. However, there are notable exceptions that need to be considered. The quality and experience of the person should be taken into account. Stereotyping based solely on titles, professions or education can lead to faulty conclusions. Community organizers can become world leaders if they are given a chance. So too can lowly vendors end up giving you the referral of a lifetime. I ask a simple question, “If the vendor who you rejected from your group contacted you with an outstanding referral, would you accept it?” You never know where your next referral is coming from.
In the world of business networking, it is interesting to find out why some people are motivated to make referrals and introductions to others. We meet hundreds and even thousands of people in the course of our business careers, yet we don’t refer everyone equally. You’ve got to know someone before you would even think or referring them. The next point is likability. If you like someone, you are more likely to refer them than if you don’t like them. Thirdly, we trust them and truly believe that they will do a good job. After you know, like and trust a person, there must be something else that serves as motivation to make a referral or strategic introduction. It could be that you are in a networking group that encourages or even requires that members make referrals and introductions. That can be a motivating factor. Altruism might be another key factor, the desire to help others because it is the right thing to do. Sometimes people don’t make referrals because they are concerned that the person might not do a good job and it would reflect badly on them.
One key to effective networking is to be a giver, without expecting anything in return. If you embrace that principle, you will be listening carefully to what others say in order to help them by referring business to them. Another reason people make referrals is because the other person has recently stated their needs clearly and in a memorable way. They have been clear about what a good referral is to them, and make it easy to give them a referral. We sometimes meet multiple people who do a similar thing, yet might only remember the one we met most recently. I know a lot of financial advisors, yet can only refer business to a small number of them. My motivation is based on how well I know them, if I like them personally, if others have spoken positively about them, and I hear about someone who is looking for a financial advisor in their geographic region. I might also be more likely to make a referral to a family member or close friend.
It is a well known and accepted principle that the more you give, the more you will get. Thus, the single best way to get referrals and strategic introductions is to be generous in giving them. Get to know people, get them to like you, make your business clear and easy to understand, and above all, do an outstanding job. If all of those conditions are in place, and you stay with a particular business for a reasonable period of time, you will will receive referrals and introductions in abundance. When you do, be sure to thank the person who makes the referral and if there is any way to reciprocate, do so at the next opportunity.