Real networking isn’t about handing out business cards at a networking event, or seeing how many you can collect before the event is over. Real networking is about relationships that, when cultivated properly, will breed referrals and positive word of mouth about you and your company.
Too often I hear the famous networking complaint: “networking doesn’t work for me. ” There are a variety of reasons why someone might feel this way. 90% of the time it has nothing to do with them or their business; it has to do with what they think networking really is. Networking IS NOT simply going to networking events and hoping that you’ll get some new clients or referrals. Let’s say you join your local Chamber of Commerce and go to every lunch meeting that they offer. You do this for a solid year. Are you likely to get any business? If all you did was go to the lunch meetings then the answer is either probably not, or very little.
Networking events are just the beginning of the most important part of networking; Building Relationships. You’re not going to be able to build strong relationships simply by saying hello to a few people once a month at lunch. The relationships that are likely to generate those precious referrals you’re looking for are built outside of the networking event. These business events are really just a great place to meet people with whom you’d like to build a relationship. Certainly there’s a little more to it than that, but identifying these prospects is the primary benefit of these meetings.
The key to building real, profitable business relationships is what happens outside these networking events. It’s the one on one personal interaction with the gentleman or lady that you met at that last event where you’ll find the gold. It’s difficult to get to know someone, and learn what they’re truly passionate about in a noisy room with dozens or even hundreds of other people. If you sit down with that same person for coffee, or lunch you’ll have a much better chance to get to know who they really are.
Solid networking relationships are built on trust. The best time to do this is while sipping latte’s, slurping spaghetti, or slugging Shiner (a local Texas beer). Of course a meal doesn’t have to be involved. You might call and ask if you can take a tour of their business operation. Invite them to another coming event that they might be interested in, and schedule time afterwards to sit down and share what you though of the event with each other. Even a phone conversation will get the ball rolling. The point is you’ve got to take the time outside of these networking events to get to know these folks
The next time you go back to your office from a networking event take out the stack of business cards you collected. Find a couple of people that you’d like to really network with. Now pick up the phone and give them a call. Take a few minutes to get to know them a little bit better and schedule a time to get together. Coffee, lunch, beers, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you’ll have enough time in a suitable environment that you can learn more about each other and your respective businesses. This is the beginning of real networking.
Once you’ve really gotten to know someone the possibilities are unlimited. Just remember that networking with someone is not a one time event. It’s an ongoing process. You’ve got to communicate regularly and follow-up on the things you say you’re going to do.
Scott Ingram is the founder of NetworkInAustin.com, a networking resource for networkers in Austin, Texas who use networking as a business development and marketing strategy. He also posts regularly to his blogs: Business Networking in Austin Blog and Austin Networking Events . When he’s not out building relationships at Chambers of Commerce, the Rotary Club of Austin, and numerous other business associations and networking groups Scott is busy spending time with his beautiful wife Emily. They are currently expecting their first child, a baby girl.