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Never Underestimate The Power Of "Who You Know"

by Alf Nucifora

I often come into contact with captains of industry, high-powered attorneys and other assorted masters of the universe. All are happy to tear at a competitor's juggler as part of negotiation process or invoke the gods of wrath or war on behalf of their business affairs. But ask them to engage in the simple act of networking and they morph into mild-mannered milquetoasts. What is it about networking that scares so many yet returns so much?

As one who is currently building a business from scratch, solely through networking and constructing a web of referral contacts, I can attest to the extraordinary power of this simple, inexpensive and highly efficient and effective marketing tool. I like it because it works; because there is a direct correlation between effort and result. If you make the calls and take the meetings, the network will get built, the referrals will be made and the sales will ultimately get closed. In essence, networking serves to reduce the "degrees of separation" between marketer and prospect. For those who feel uncomfortable (as I do) working within the structured confines of an organized networking organization or club, let me reassure you that successful networking is as much a result of personal commitment and disciplined application as it is a catechism of formalized rules and practices.

Joanne Black, networker extraordinaire and author of the recently published "No More Cold Calling", one of the best guides on the subject of networking condenses the core philosophy down to four basic rules.

Show up!

Black preaches a commitment to constant activity, a minimum of one networking meeting a week. (I do five to ten). These can be the proverbial breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, or as is happening more often nowadays, coffee at Starbuck's. Meetings can take any forms…one-on-ones, professional association meetings, business groups, prayer groups, trade conferences, etc. The issue is not so much the nature of the meeting as the fanaticism or discipline that must be applied in making the meetings. It has to become a business ritual, an agreement with one's self that a certain part of each day, week or month will be reserved for the process of meeting people and expanding one's web of business associates and contacts. It is after all, nothing more than a numbers game-meet more people and get exposed to more business opportunities. Let me also acknowledge the difficulty that this can entail in day and age when each of us is over-worked, traveling too much and trying to balance family and career needs, and most often not succeeding. That's where the commitment and discipline come into to play.

Have a good time!

Enjoy yourself. Networking doesn't have to be drudgery. But always have a goal for the meeting or the event. Aimless attendance is a waste of time. If it's a meeting environment, go in with the express aim of meeting someone and making good connections. Take the initiative and talk to three or four interesting people. Try to learn something from the evening even if it's not related solely to your own particular business. And if you fear or hate networking events, find a comfortable entry point into conversations with strangers. Ask people about themselves and what they do, and then sit back and listen. It's always a winning formula. Why? Because people love to talk about themselves. That's how conversations get started, dialogs developed, friendships formed, and business eventually consummated.

Resist the urge to be overly aggressive during these first forays. Your intention at first-time meetings should always be to learn something, gain introductions and break down barriers or doors. Don't feel pressured to immediately solicit leads or vacuum up business cards. Let nature take its course. Be comfortable, project comfort and concentrate on establishing empathetic connections that can be mined later. Business can always be done in a subsequent meeting and in a more conducive setting.

Follow up!

When you've made the connection and both parties have agreed that getting together later would be good thing ("Let's do lunch"), follow up immediately on the promise or agreement. Drop the other party a call, email or note within twenty four hours to reaffirm the arrangement. You would be surprised how often good intentions never get acted upon. By the same token, be wary of impersonal mass mailings, the readily-identifiable cliché letters that the reader instinctively knows have been mailed to everyone on the meeting attendance list. While the success of networking is undeniably tied to meeting more people and expanding the network itself, quality of contact will always trump quantity.

Be active!

Black stresses this point in her book to great effect. One of the essential underpinnings of successful networking is being seen, as often as possible. This means "joining and volunteering", working in environments where you can prove yourself, demonstrate your talents and demonstrate to others, particularly the influentials who populate volunteer boards that you have the skills, temperament, passion and conviction to be trusted in all matters both personal and professional. Whether it's serving on a Rotary committee or trade association board, consistent communal activity of this type is a core element of a successful networking strategy.

Let's face it, for some people networking has all the appeal of a root canal procedure. Most lack the time; many lack the people skills; others are downright unsociable, and proud of it. But it works. It's how American society functions. And within the context of building a business, particularly within an entrepreneurial setting, it has no equal in opening doors. Remember that a cold call without an introduction has a success factor of less than 40%. Accompanied by a word-of-mouth referral or pre-introduction, that factor grows to more than 90%. It's networking, more than anything else that enhances the odds.

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