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.
There are many ways to derive benefits from business and personal networking. One of the best is to raise your profile within every group in which you are a member. Assuming leadership positions are the most obvious way to raise your profile. Sometimes that takes time, but often such positions become available not long after you join a group. In addition to being the president or moderator of a group, you can also volunteer for committees and committee chairs. There are often opportunities which require skills that you already possess. There is work involved, but often that work allows you to demonstrate your work ethic, dependability, organizational skills and other forms of competence. By assuming leadership positions and other forms of involvement, you are perceived as a nexus in a given group and get to make decisions about the direction of the group. Others will notice your skills and make positive assumptions about how that applies to your work in other situations.
There are other ways to raise your profile, especially related to social media. A judicious use of such social media tools as blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and You Tube can give you a perceived expert status. Since I have become deeply involved in the various forms of social media, many people have approached me at events and commented on my various postings. In utilizing social media, it is vital to make valuable contributions, and not merely to post updates about watering the lawn. In addition to your status updates and regular blog posts, you should engage in online dialogues with your connections, friends, and people in your various LinkedIn groups. Posting a profile and adding connections are only the first steps. Follow up and offer your knowledge, insights, experiences and insights. The more that others see your name, the higher your profile, and the more likely you will be perceived as an expert and someone worthy of a referral or introduction.
The more you do, both in person as a member of a group or online will increase others’ awareness of you. As your profile increases, so will your success. Perception is reality, and if you act like a leader you will be treated like one. When opportunities arise, seize them enthusiastically and carry them out to the best of your ability. Show up regularly and step up to the various challenges that are put before you. If you take the time to join a group, you may as well maximize your involvement. The same is true of social media. There are many opportunities to go beyond the status quo. If you want to have a business with endless referrals and constant introduction, it is up to you.
In the world of professional networking, there is a tendency for people to prejudge others based solely on their profession, age, gender, or other personal characteristics. This is dangerous, and can prevent you from building relationships with potentially valuable people. While you might be able to make some valid statistical assumptions based on these variables, there are dramatic exceptions. It is these exceptions that lead to the conclusion that “You never know.” You never know for sure who that person knows, what they might do or have done in the past in addition to their current career, or any other possibilities. For example, I was initially rejected from a prominent networking organization primarily on the basis of my career as a commercial relocation manager. It wasn’t until one of the leaders decided it was who I was as a person, not simply my career, that determined my potential worth. He decided to accept me as a member, where I have made valuable and some unexpected contributions to the group. I am now a Group Leader, wrote a book on networking called Connecting: Beyond the Name Tag, and have become a recognized expert on the networking process. None of that would have happened had that person been unwilling to give me the opportunity.
In addition to career, people are often judged on their age. How could someone in their twenties, they ask, possibly make a valuable referral or introduction? They probably didn’t meet Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook in his very early twenties, or Jack Dorsey, who founded Twitter in his late twenties. Stereotypes exist because there is some truth to them, and they help guide our reactions to people and events. When we see a group of youths laden with tatoos stalking toward us at 2 a.m. yielding weapons, there is good reason to be alarmed. However, that doesn’t mean anyone with a tattoo is dangerous. My main point is that we should keep an open mind for the possibility the exception to the stereotype. Some networking groups assume that all attorneys are valuable and all “vendors” are less than valuable. What about the attorneys who behave like vendors, and the “vendors” that provide abundant referrals and strategic introductions. Don’t judge a book by its cover, the saying goes. You don’t need to read the entire book to know if it will be interesting or valuable, but at least open it up. While you’re at it, open your mind to possibilities that you didn’t think were there. You will be better off by doing so. You never know for sure, even if you think you do.
With the proliferation of social media, some people think that they can build a network with heavy reliance on it alone. Nothing could be further from the truth. Though social media can be quite useful in expanding your virtual network exponentially, there will never be a substitute for face-to-face contact. Social media is valuable in sharing ideas, updates, information, and other things. However, if you really want to make a deep, memorable impression with others, you must meet them in person and have a real conversation. Face-to-face, or even telephonic communication, allows for personal expression, tone of voice, body language, and a whole range of other emotions to be expressed. Social media, other than visual mediums like You Tube, do not allow such aspects of expression.
When you meet people in person, you are able to engage in verbal and nonverbal communication that make human beings unique. From the first eye contact, to the hand shake or hug, through the entire meeting, your flesh and blood presence imbues meaning that is so often lacking in social media communication. We have all experienced e-mail communications that led to misunderstandings among people. For example, there is someone at my work who persists in writing in all capital letters, not realizing that others perceive him to be SHOUTING. Most of us have hit Send, only to reconsider our words. There is obviously a time and place for the use of the various platforms of social media, especially when expanding our networks beyond our geographical borders. But if you really want to make a deep impression on others, I suggest you show up and meet in person. This is especially true if you are likable and/or pleasant looking. Continue to use social media (as I am doing here), but don’t shy away from the old fashioned cup of coffee or “breaking bread.” The truly successful networkers use a combination of social media and face-to-face contact. You should do the same.
In networking, follow-up is the key to success for many reasons. Many people assume that meeting people and exchanging business cards will lead directly to business referrals and strategic introductions. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is only through consistent and varied follow-up and follow-through that you will build meaningful and fruitful relationships. After meeting people for the first time, you can do a number of things to follow up with them. Some are the following: invite them to join LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, send a simple follow-up e-mail, or make a phone call and invite them for coffee. One reason that follow-up is so critical is related to memory. We often meet so many people in our busy lives, that the new people kind of “erase the memory” of others we have met earlier. People need to be reminded that we exist. There is also the tendency to get so excited when meeting new people that we neglect or minimize the ones we have met earlier. Follow-up not only applies to the networking process,but also the sales process. If you are one of several people competing for business, the client may forget you unless you do something meaningful, impactful, or useful by way of follow-up. Don’t merely contact the client to find out if they have made a decision. Try to find something of value that you can contribute with each succeeding contact.
There have been many times when I have followed up with someone, and found out that they were currently reviewing the proposals, had some questions for me, and I was able to secure the contract primarily because of timely follow-up. You can call, send e-mails, or even find a significant reason to have an additional meeting to discuss the details of your proposal/bid. Networking doesn’t end with the exchange of business cards at a mixer. It’s what you do afterward that really matters. So too with trying to secure business. It is the consistent, strategic follow-up that is often the deciding factor in who gets the contract.
Make follow-up an integral part of your networking and sales program. Without it people will forget you and do business with those who do.
I had my second book signing on Thursday at Stone Rose Lounge. It was a huge success. There was a great turnout and we sold many books. However, it was a note I received the following day that meant the most to me. A woman building manager named Meredith whom I have known for several years had shown up at the event. She commented to me how unusual it was for a “mover” (my day job) to also be an author. She marveled at the incongruity of it all. I took the time to talk with her, and we had a nice connection. The note stated how much she had enjoyed the signing event, and how it had inspired her to attend another event the same night and meet new people. I was especially touched by the fact that the content of my book matters, and can actually help people. Sometimes I focus more on the sheer number of attendees and books sold, but it is the individual people who are affected by the events, the material in the book, and that I am “walking the talk” that is important. Networking is really about making that deeper connection and adding meaning to your life. My book and signing event had a positive effect on Meredith’s life and made a difference. That is what really inspires me to keep doing what I am doing. Part of the purpose of these events is to allow people to connect with each other. If I sell books in the process, that is good. But what really matters are the relationships that develop, and if I can nurture that process, then my work has some value.
On Thursday, March 25, Believe Publishing will be sponsoring a special book signing and networking mixer at Stone Rose Lounge in the Sofitel Hotel, at 8555 Beverly Blvd., right across from the Beverly Center. The concept behind this event is really a combination book signing for my new book Connecting: Beyond the Name Tag and networking mixer to assemble a diverse group of people. It is especially relevant because the topic of the book is NETWORKING. Believe Publishing wants to showcase the book while giving people the opportunity to socialize and network. There will be complimentary appetizers and a cash bar. The Stone Rose is a very comfortable indoor/outdoor venue with a fire pit and lots of room to mix and mingle. I will be selling and signing Connecting: Beyond the Name Tag in an adjacent room. For those who already have the book, the event is a time of celebration for the arrival of the spring season. It is my hope that people will have a pleasant and memorable experience and make both personal and business connections. The event is open to everyone, and there is parking at Beverly Center, on the street, or valet at the hotel. Please share this information and join in the fun. I hope to see you there.
On Thursday, March 25 at 6 p.m. Believe Publishing will host a book signing for my new book Connecting: Beyond the Name Tag. The event will be held at the Stone Rose Lounge at the Sofitel Hotel in mid-town LA, at the corner of Beverly Bl. and La Cienega. It is also a networking mixer. How can this be? Well, we have decided that since my book is about networking, our book signings should give guests the opportunity to network both personally and for business. It is a free event, open to everyone to encourage attendance and participation. There will be light appetizers and a cash bar. The Stone Rose is a wonderful indoor/outdoor venue located in the epicenter of Los Angeles. Attendees can purchase books (if they don’t already have one) and I will be signing them. Because it is free and open to everyone, the crowd is guaranteed to be diverse in terms of age, profession, and background. Feel free to share this information with any of your friends and associates, whether you are coming or not. Networking is especially important in these challenging economic times. You can never know too many people. Come and join the fun. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.