You’ve heard the old expression: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
Well, there is some truth to the notion, but like all shibboleths, the wisdom behind the antique words sometimes bumps up against current reality. In the business world, what you know has always been, and still is, greatly important. You cannot maintain a successful and thriving enterprise, if you don’t know what you are doing. And, surely, who you know has always been an important ingredient in all human relations, especially in the realm of commerce. But in the modern, competitive marketplace, it might be wise to consider a slight alteration of the well-worn phrase, so it reads something like this: “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.”
Make yourself known
Today, everyone is trying to get known. Our answering machines and inboxes are filled to overflowing with information from businesses attempting to get their product or service to the head of the line and the top of our list. We’re inundated, daily, with advertising notices, email blasts, social media updates, discount offers, sales pitches, etc., etc., etc. And at some point our brains are so saturated with the noise and clutter that we just can’t separate the wheat from the chaff, so we end up deleting the whole pile of requests, offers and proposals with one quick swipe of the delete button.
Build meaningful relationships
And yet, as business people, we still need to get our products and services in front of potential customers or our companies will surely go the way of the do-do bird and carrier pigeon. The question is then, what is the best way to make sure that we have an active and open thoroughfare to those who can help us keep our businesses afloat? The answer, as any successful executive or salesperson will tell you, is networking.
Because another old expression – one that has proven consistently true over generations is: “People do business with people they like and trust,” and networking provides the most productive, efficient and enduring method to build the kind of relationships that sustain businesses over the long haul.
Here’s another phrase to remember: “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours!” Networking is often a natural reciprocal arrangement. Smart networking builds strong relationships that can potentially become a win-win for both sides. It’s not selfish to help somebody with the expectation that you will be helped in return. It doesn’t always have to be that way. But often times that fact is, in the business world it’s the very expectation that favors granted will be remembered and returned some day that keeps the gears moving and trade flowing. People remember those that have helped them in the past. You’re looking for contacts, leads and referrals, and so are the other people in your networking group. It’s no secret that everyone is hoping to grow their businesses, so the back scratching is always understood as mutual.
Establish trust, build professional credibility
But networking is not just a way to make new friends and gain new clients from within your networking group, itself. There are many other benefits to be accrued when you actively begin to seek out new relationships in your business community. For example, not everyone you meet in your network will have a need for your product or service, but everyone you do meet knows many other people, some of whom might well be looking for just what it is you have to offer. These referrals are actually the warmest of leads, since, in most cases, the person supplying them to you will already have built a trusting relationship with these potential clients, and will likely recommend you to them when next they talk or meet.
Open new doors of opportunity
Another benefit of networking is that it has a built-in exponential dynamic. That means that heretofore unknown opportunities abound because the synergy of a networking group is always greater than the mere sum of its individual parts. Joint ventures, new partnerships, speaking and writing engagements are all possible outcomes when business people get together to share ideas and trade their combined knowledge of the local community. And the more you participate in these sharing sessions, the more people get to know your areas of business expertise and acumen.
Increase your interpersonal confidence
Networking is also a great way to boost your confidence and your ability to consistently seek out new connections. Your group members, just like you, are working hard to increase their visibility and grow their businesses. So they are striving to be positive and uplifting. This cannot help but rub off on you. When you surround yourself with proactive, like-minded people, your own sense of self-worth is bound to increase. And if you have been a bit of a social misfit in the past, networking gives you the chance to develop your communication skills, upgrade your sales presentation proficiency, and find more comfort in making relationships with people you don’t know.
Build lasting friendships
And don’t forget: networking is not all about taking from the other members in your group. Many business professionals will tell you that one of the greatest benefits from being a longtime networker have been those times when they were able to help others with their business problems. As human beings, we are so much more than our professional identities. We still are hardwired to be helpful to, and supportive of, other people. Great satisfaction is available to the networker who can solve an issue that has plagued a fellow group member and many strong and lasting friendships have grown between members who, initially, were strangers to one another.
Become a resource
Since the days when friendly tribes roamed the land, informing one another about where to find pure water, or where to spot fresh game, humans have been networking. What’s changed in the 21st century is the technology that allows us to network virtually. Online forums and social media now give business people the opportunity to connect over the internet, and while it can never truly replace face to face contact, the web can still be an additional place to trade information, seek out new leads, and stay in touch with business contacts. In addition, social networking allows you to connect with businesses and people far from home, and for those who can write with comfort and alacrity, the internet is a good way in which to get the word out about new products or developments in your business.
Understand the needs of others, first
But let’s get back to the first quotation – the one about getting people to know you. Networking will fail you if you spend all your time touting your own business, pigeon-holing others for leads and referrals and forgetting to understand that the point of networking is that it’s a two-way street. Unless you are genuinely interested in your group members’ dealings and have the time and capacity to listen to and help them, you will get known, all right, but not in a good way. So, learn about your contacts by probing them for their interests and their needs. Then, when it’s your turn to benefit from the help of others, they will be more than happy to throw some business your way because you will be well-known as a business person worth dealing with – someone who is reliable, respectful and responsive.
Find a local business networking group in your area. Plan to attend a couple of meetings to find out if the group is a good fit for you. And you’ll be on your way….
And if you’re located in the Orlando area, come check out one of our bi-monthly breakfast meetings or frequent social events.