Networking and marketing are two very different things. You already know how to market yourself. If not in business, you market yourself as a friend or neighbor or interesting member of your community. Without some form of marketing or self-promotion, you would be alone in the world.
Networking is a lot different, although it includes marketing. Networking is more like being a friend than a self-promoter. In fact, if you go about marketing with the chief purpose of getting referrals to your business, you’re missing the point. Networking is about building and maintaining relationships.
I began attending networking groups for the same reason that most people have—to get referrals and increase my business. The problem was that I went away from the meetings feeling cold, as if I had missed something. The thing I was missing was this: Being part of a community is a lot more than just having an address and something to sell.
I define networking as finding out as much as I can about someone and their services and products, while making my own business worth and values available to anyone.
Networking is a mind-set. The people who do it best make it a habit. The most effective people I know are also the most helpful, with lots of resources that they share with others. The result of having abundant, strong resources is that they are sought and trusted, and they have perceived power in the community. They seem to incorporate this tried-and-true philosophy: “If you want good friends, you first have to be a good friend.”
Here’s what I’ve been learning about the benefits of networking:
I get a lot of practice meeting others and promoting myself. That alone has great value. I shake anywhere from 20 to 50 hands every week, along with some conversation about what we do for a living. Much more than just an “elevator speech,” I have gained an understanding of what people want to know about me and what they think is valuable. As a result, I’ve developed a few great ways to generate curiosity about my services.
I’m become acquainted with others in the business community, and I’m learning a lot about them. I will only feel good about giving referrals if I have a good understanding of the product, service, and the people behind them. I need to know that the people in the company have integrity.
I’ve become a lot more helpful to others by supplying information about their perceived needs. Say what you want about “giving to get.” I still stand by what my mother taught me: being helpful is its own reward. Being good to others is simply the right thing to do. I might get a reward for doing something nice, but that should never be the #1 reason for doing it. Call me a Humanist, I guess.
I’m increasing my standing in the community. If I am going about my networking effectively, my own integrity, abundance, and generosity of spirit will become known. I hope it will influence those around me to open up, too.
Networking has given me a wider range of direct and reliable feedback about my marketing. Which feedback do I value the most? The feedback that comes from people of integrity who make an effort to get to know me and what I have to offer.
As a result of all the networking I do, I realize that I’m getting the basic things I’ve been wanting and needing all along: respect from my peers, and a friendly environment in which I can thrive. And you know what else? I’ve even made a few friends. I didn’t start out to make friends, but that’s just another pleasant surprise about networking. There are plenty of people in my local business community who share some of my general feelings about the Universe, and the world of business. Good thing I ventured out to meet them!