It’s All About Networking: Building & Maintaining What You Have

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

We all have a designated contact sphere that we constantly pull from to refer ourselves, friends and colleagues to when they are in need of a specific service.  I know if I need promotional products, I call Linda. If I need my car fixed, I call Dell. You get the idea. They aren’t just another card in my Rolodex, or shoved in my desk drawer, they are part of my trusted network. Did they become that way over night? Of course not. Building trust takes time and effort.

Diverse group of people represented by toys

Over the past year, I have spent a great deal of time building a professional network for myself and the company I work for. I want to share a few of the tips that I’ve learned over the last year that have helped me greatly.

  • Be patient: Building a strong network isn’t easy and it does not happen overnight. You have to spend the time getting to know people and building the relationships. Until that trust is established, you can’t truly add that person to your network. They are just another contact in the never-ending pile of business cards. Often times when people join networking groups they expect immediate results. They want referrals now and are sometimes bummed (to the point of being discouraged and wanting to quit) when it doesn’t click instantly. It simply doesn’t work like that. You have to be patient and give it time. Your referral partners need to trust you and you need to trust them. Once they do, and the relationship is solid, you will see the benefits come to life.
  • Stand strong: Don’t stop building your network. It’s like quitting the game in the middle of the fourth quarter and your up by seven. You constantly need to be growing and marketing within your network. If you keep constantly building, you won’t lose steam. It can be so easy (particularly in networking groups) to get discouraged. For example, you belong to a networking of about 18 people and one person drops off. Everyone is disappointed, but they are handling it. Then two more people drop out. People are starting to get discouraged and are not actively working to grow their (and the groups) network. They are just coasting by. Then three more people drop because they are discouraged by your numbers. Before you know it, everyone is down and out. No one has been actively building onto the network, and the group is about to crumble. It’s almost too late to start building now because your numbers are so small. However, the situation could have been completely different if everyone has stayed strong and been building all along. The moral is never stop building your network.
  • Specifics are key: When you are asking for referrals, you must be specific. The more specific you are, the easier it will be for your networking partners to answer your call for a referral. If you say you want a small business owner, what does that mean? 100 employees or less … 20 employees or less. What is a small business owner? You need to narrow it down. The more narrow the better (in most cases). For example, a very narrow referral request would be, “A great referral for me this week would be the owner of XZY off Mopac in South Austin.” A slightly more broad (but still narrow) referral would be, I’d like a dentist office who would like to add patient forms to their website. Still specific but slightly broader. Try it next time you ask for a referral and see what a difference it makes.
  • Don’t forget to give: Sure it is great to get referrals that turn into more business and money for you. But that isn’t what it’s all about. You also have to be willing to give and share with others. The only way to get highly qualified referrals is to give them. If you don’t, after awhile people will stop passing them your way because it’s not all about you. To help you do this, make sure to take notes when people in your network ask for specific referrals or connections they’d like to make. This gives you a solid, written place to go back to when you hear of something that works for them OR are just looking to generate ideas on how to help your partners out. Either way, make sure to give back. How’s that old saying go … what comes around goes around!

It is important to take time and put a great deal of effort into your network. The only way to cultivate and grow it is through hard work. The more you put in, the more you are likely to gain.

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Posted in: Networking

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