The Critical Six - Effective Networking Defined

Define networking as it relates to your business marketing.
If you’re stumped, don’t feel alone. Many business owners have trouble pinpointing the definition, and sadly, the usefulness of lead and referral networking as a marketing tool.

Here are some common definitions:
- Networking is both an art and a science, building on sound principles and developed skill.
- Networking is working – it takes effort and time to become an effective tool.
- Networking is like farming in that you plant seeds, tend crops, and reap a harvest at some point in the future.

All these variations have a common theme. But here’s a definition that we feel stands head and shoulders above the rest:

Networking is cultivating mutually beneficial relationships between two or more people who share their connections in order to build bigger networks.

Why does this definition of networking stand out above all others?

1. It references the “cultivation” factor (like working and farming). Cultivation is a process involving time, sequence and steps. Effective networking involves all of these, hence making networking much like a science.

2. It considers the need for building “relationships”. Too often are events dubbed “Networking Events” where business people go to introduce themselves and hand out business cards to every person in the room. These types of events can certainly be a part of your networking process, but limiting your reach at such events ensures you’re considering the relationship requirement for effective networking. Since relationship is definined as being connected or associated with, your goal is to connect with people, not simply meet and greet.

3. It further clarifies relationships as being “mutually beneficial”. This is a critical factor for effective networking. Any relationship where only one party benefits is lopsided, and thus doomed for failure. For a relationship to be successful, it must be interdependent. The parties must rely on each other which indicates a level of trust must be established. Trust can only be established through cultivation of the relationship…if it sounds like a cycle, that’s because it is.

4. It specifies that “two or more people” can be involved in this network of mutually beneficial relationships. The size of your network is important as it defines your sphere of influence. Poor networkers have small spheres of influence and therefore may not be capable of holding up their side of the relationship. This is another reason that cultivation is important, it allows you to “weed” out those contacts that suck up all the nutrients, or referrals, and never offer anything to their networking partners.

5. It involves “sharing” – the joint use of resources. A sucessful network may include sharing contacts, sharing information, shared marketing, shared expenses, shared knowledge. This point is difficult for some business owners as they feel protective of what they’ve learned or achieved. But only through sharing information and experience will others get to see what you know. Only through sharing contacts will others benefit, and in the effective relationship, they’ll turn around and do the same for you.

6. It defines success as “building a bigger network”. A bigger network means more connections to future clients and prospects. Broadening your reach through mutually beneficial relationships ultimately leads to more sales, more retention, and more success in your business.

Of course, following the right steps is important, but developing the right skills is critical to successful networking. After all, no one is going to refer someone they don’t know or trust, and few will refer someone they don’t like. So, first it’s important to be known, it’s very important to be trustworthy, and it’s important to become a likeable people person (most people don’t care for the selfish, self-centered, all about me types).  And that doesn’t mean you have to have a bubbly, outgoing, life of the party personality. But it does mean that you need to take a genuine interest in other people, train yourself to be a good listener, and have a truly unselfish desire to see others succeed. These skills cannot be taught, they must be learned and practiced for many of us.

Effective networking is critical to the success of any business today. The onslaught of social media networks only drives this point home more than ever. People are social and today’s consumer wants to know who and what their connections recommend. If you do it right, it could be you and your business.