Going Way Beyond Networking 101: Up, Across and Down
Ever go to a networking event where someone you meet presses their business card into your hand? This one fleeting gesture creates a long-lasting negative impression. They don’t really understand networking’s function, and mistakenly believe that networking is primarily transactional. But, how often do you go to a networking event with the intention of being “sold to?”
Networking Leads to Business
As you already know, people do business with individuals that they know, like and trust. That means forming the relationship first. Studies claim that strategic networking can potentially increase your business by 47 percent. It’s natural to like people who are similar to you, so you’ll primarily gravitate to groups who share your interests. However, creating connections only with those groups limits you. It lacks diversification.
If you’re ready to expand your network, then you’ll want to slightly adjust your strategy.
Three primary types of groups exist:
1. Networking Up. These are influencers, legacy business founders and other professionals who are more successful than you. They attend select fundraisers, join boards of directors and speak at conferences such as QuickBooks® Connect.
2. Cross networking. Your peers, even if they’re not in the same profession as you, are in this group. You’ll meet them at network meetings like Business Networking International (BNI), chamber of commerce meetings and service organizations such as Rotary.
3. Networking Down. Don’t dismiss this group; they’re valuable and important! In these groups, you’re the networking up connection. It’s not about their current level of success. The value lies in what they do and building relationships. You don’t know who they know or their future achievements. You can meet people who are in the start-up phase at your local Small Business Development Center, Young Professionals Organization or co-working spaces.
Networking with Networkers
I recently attended the BNI National Conference. Since BNI is a networking organization, some of the best networkers in the country attend this conference. Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, described his networking up experience. A networking down connection led to a series of introductions. Because of these encounters, he eventually received an exclusive invitation from Richard Branson to visit Necker Island.
Networking up strategically connects you with meaningful people who you believe are more successful than you. Who would you like to meet that is more established than you?
First identify that person or a group of people, then start to build relationships with them. The principle of compounding interest applies here.
- Time. Set aside the time to nurture those relationships.
- Invest. Give without any expectations. Figure out what you can do for them.
- Future payoff. At some point in the future, an opportunity will appear.
Frequently my business coaching clients will tell me, “Loren, they already claimed the top position, I can’t compete.”
The reality, however, is there’s plenty of room at the top. It’s the bottom that’s really crowded. So look for those game changing opportunities. With consistency and time, you’ll develop these connections.
Your Circle of Influence
Your circle of influence expands with one introduction at a time. Then that person introduces you to someone else, who then introduces you to another person. Each introduction is your opportunity to develop another meaningful relationship.
Dr. Misner shared his lessons learned from networking up.
- Don’t sell to them. Never ask someone to buy from you if you don’t have a relationship. Basically, everyone is interested in selling to them. You don’t want to get lumped into that category. Connect in another way. If they’re interested in your service, they’ll ask.
- Hang out. Hang out with people who force you to uplevel. Start with your local chamber of commerce, Rotary Club or BNI group. People who are more successful than you will be in those rooms. Eventually evolve to a volunteer position with a select non-profit organization. That’s where you’ll meet people higher up than you. Take little steps. Success is a ladder where you climb one step at a time. Build your relationships by giving first. Eventually you’ll receive invitations to network at more successful organizations.
- Google. When possible, use Google. If you know someone you want to meet will be at an event that you’re attending, then Google them in advance. Get on the internet and find out about that person before walking up to start a conversation. Technology can even let you do some research on the spur of the moment at an event.
- Interests. Figure out what they are interested in. That’s why you want to Google them. Look them up. Find information regarding their interests. That’s the discussion you want to have with that person. Connect through overlapping interests.
- Diversify. The more diverse your network, the more successful it will be. Networks, by nature, are cluster like. We hang out with people like ourselves. Break out of that mold. Spend time with people who are different than you. Remember, a network offers connections. If you have connections to people who are different than you, then they offer connections to other groups which lie outside of your current sphere.
- Embrace discomfort. If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re not aiming high enough. Use this as a barometer when connecting with people. Uplevel. Discomfort is okay.
- Don’t complain, EVER! Especially, when networking up. Don’t tell someone at the top of an organization what’s wrong with her company. That only works if you never want that person to talk with you again. Build a relationship first. Then eventually speak with that person in a solution-focused manner about the challenge.
- Don’t kiss up. When you’re over-eager, it repels people. That’s the exact opposite from what you want. Highly successful people get tired of having people “yes” them all day long. Be respectful and sincere. Share the impact his service has on you. Remember, to do this in a professional manner.
- Context. Connect within the context of the setting or the discussion. Say, “I’d enjoy getting together again.”
- Add value. Offer something. Do something. Promise to refer to someone who can help them with their specific challenge. The 5 magical words of service “How can I help you?” Stand out by adding value. Of course, there will be times you do everything right and it never goes to the next step. That’s okay. Be true to your values, build relationships, add value and be genuinely interested. It’s okay to have goals. Whatever you do, remain professional.
- Mistaken identity. Don’t assume they will remember you. Plus, don’t test them. You may not like the answer and then it becomes awkward. Make it easy for them. Introduce yourself and give them context about when you met them before. Here’s an advanced tip. If you send an email, it’s okay to also include a picture. The photo helps to jog their memory. Plus, this helps to create the right kind of connection. By prepping them, whether in person, by phone, or email, they may actually remember you.
- Don’t sell to them. This reminder bears repeating. Don’t ask for business before there’s a relationship, especially when networking up. You doom the relationship when it’s done too soon. If they have some interest, they will eventually ask you.
- Success. If you’re always the most successful person in a room – you’re hanging out in the wrong rooms!
Get Out There
Get out there and practice these things. Expect to make some mistakes as you do this. Those contribute to the best learning opportunities.
We have minimal control over succeeding or failing. On the other hand, we do control whether we choose to pursue something or quit trying. If you consistently attempt to do something, you will eventually succeed. If you always quit, then you will never win.
Networking is about building relationships. It’s about getting to know people. As you move through the “know, like and trust” process, people will help you build your business. When we all work together, we all do better.
Confidence is Overrated
Maybe you realize the value of networking up, but it intimidates you. That’s okay. I hid in my office for 12 years, avoiding networking like the plague. As an introvert, I discovered how to network in a way that works for me. Because of this mindset shift, networking is now a primary part of my coaching business.
It takes courage to do something that you’re not confident about. You will grow because you chose to step out of your comfort zone, not in spite of it. Here’s the bottom line: Build strategic relationships and your business will grow.