It isn’t just what you know, and it isn’t just who you know. It’s actually who you know, who knows you, and what you do for a living.
— Bob Burg, best-selling author, Endless Referrals
If you go to hit-or-miss networking events to build your business, you probably aren’t making the best of your time. The value of networking in the traditional sense where random people meet and try to connect the dots is next to nil. In fact, the value may be negative and is therefore hurting your business.
For a moment years ago, many people thought that this kind of networking was getting an upgrade. In 2001, entrepreneurs and professionals from all fields welcomed the new idea of NetWeaving, a concept introduced by author and businessman Bob Littell. NetWeaving, as described by the book that teaches the technique, is “all about giving and helping others while having the confidence to know that eventually you, the NetWeaver, will benefit in return.” This strategy is more effective than traditional networking, but it still doesn’t give you a direct plan of attack. Moreover, you could possibly find business for everyone else, and the favors never return to you, or they just take too long to do so. Consequently, the NetWeaving craze didn’t last long at all.
Networking should take on a different meaning to you as an entrepreneur. It should not only mean going to an event in hopes that you’ll meet someone there who can help you grow your business. Instead, it should mean following these four important steps:
1. Being proactive
2. Being creative
3. Meeting the right people (what I often call “check writers”)
4. Finding the most appropriate environment
Networking this way gives you the best chance at actually closing a major deal, and that’s what it is all about.
For example, I have found that volunteering for charities and nonprofits provides a great opportunity for me to meet C-level and director-level professionals who can authorize a deal with my company. First, this strategy meets the proactive requirement. Volunteerism is not for wimps. It demands a commitment to and accountability from others. Second, it meets the creative test. Most people wouldn’t put volunteerism and networking together. Third, it gets me to the right people. Many corporate decision-makers are proud of the charities they support. In fact, some companies strongly encourage that their employees give a portion of their time to charities like Habitat for Humanity. Naturally, leaders take part in these initiatives to encourage the involvement of the rest of their team. Fourth, I’m in a “no selling” environment that instantly builds rapport. When a prospect sees you volunteering for a charity, the shared experience reflects well on you. Also, it evokes a good feeling in a prospect that increases the likelihood of doing business.
Years ago I saw a huge growth opportunity in doing business with financial institutions. I identified a nonprofit that was well-sponsored by the companies I wanted to have as clients, including Wells Fargo, Nationwide, Bank of America, and H&R Block. I also was able to find the individuals in these large companies who volunteered at the nonprofit and learn their corporate roles. Next, I offered my time and resources to the nonprofit, which teaches financial literacy and entrepreneurship to high school and college students. To make a long story short, I met many C-level supporters who wrote or authorized checks for the nonprofit. Moreover, the CEO of the nonprofit, seeing my dedication to his organization, gave me excellent introductions to his check-writing sponsors. As a result, my company ended up doing a lot of business with these companies and continues to do so today.
I cannot guarantee you that following this specific example will work for your business, but I can say that following the four rules outlined will help you become more effective in getting to the right people. As opposed to hoping to meet the right people at an event, guarantee your presence with decision-makers by implementing this methodology. You won’t win using old networking techniques.