We hear the term ‘networking’ bandied about all over the place these days. When a new business owner recently asked me to describe it I found myself heading to the keyboard to clarify my thoughts. Here for your consideration are my mental perambulations.
I see networking as making friends with people, sharing whatever is appropriate about yourself as a means to find common ground, not to tell your life story. It’s also about looking for ways to be of assistance, to help them with their needs, wants and desires. These needs may have nothing to do with your own business. The spin-off is, in supporting others you invoke the Law of Reciprocity. Although you don’t give help in order to be paid back, most people are wired to find some way to thank those who generously help them.
It’s not another ‘activity’ you have to do, but a way of life. It’s a million miles away from trying to shove your product or service down the throat of some unsuspecting stranger. In my model of the world, if somebody needs help with something you’ll naturally want to be of assistance.
Perhaps my country upbringing for the first 35 years of my life has had a lot to do with this philosophy. Certainly for me growing up in rural New Zealand, and I imagine it’s the same in most rural areas worldwide,neighbours had to help each other just to survive. My dad and his neighbours, all young men with families and little money,shared the big farm jobs such as hay making and cropping. They also shared occasionally-used equipment – this kept the capital costsdown.One bought giant discs; another bought a rake; someone else had a plough.
Another country trait is to be interested in your neighbours. But having lived now in and near some very large cities, I reckon we should forget the myth that city people are standoffish. If you take a genuine interest in them, many city folk warm just as much to a friendly smile and chat as country people. Many yearn for friendly contact but don’t know how to break the ice at formal functions. They freeze, agonising over whether to speak, what to say and how they’ll come across. One of the biggest ills of big cities is the loneliness, the sense of isolation, especially when you’re fairly new in the city or new to a group. And as the world moves faster and faster people crave the simple touch, the friendly face and another human being who is really interested in them.
Best advice? Relax, be friendly, forget about yourself and just focus on the other person. How would you talk to a little child who looked lost? Would you be stiff and unbending? Of course not. Would you have difficulty knowing what to say? Mostly not. It’s no different with adults. Practice being friendly and you will attract friends.
And from friends comes business. Build trust and relationships first and business will flow. We all prefer to do business with the person we know or who is known and recommended by our friends.
I’ll finish with just two of thousands of personal examples. In the early days of my business in New Zealand I did quite a bit of one-on-one consulting. One day I got a call from a stranger called Linda.
“Robyn,” she said, “I’ve just returned from the States, and someone suggested I come and network with you. I haven’t got a job yet, and not quite sure which way to go. I just need someone to bounce ideas off and it was suggested that you might well be able to help“.
We spent an hour together. At the end I felt a very strong intuitive nudge that I shouldn’t charge her (even though I needed the money and consulting was my major source of income at the time.) So I didn’t. She called a few days later to say ‘thank you’ but then dropped out of sight.
About six weeks later, I had reason to ring the city Chamber of Commerce. To my surprise, the lady I wanted had left and Linda was the new Training and Events Coordinator. The short end of a long story – for the next four years I was their contracted time management presenter, had my company name in all their promotional training material going to thousands of members every month, and it gave my business a huge move forward into the corporate market.
The hardest part of starting business in a new place is your lack of networks. You don’t know who to ask when you need anything. You have to find things out the hard way. But once you know a few people, the weaving of webs begins again. It is amazing, incredibly powerful, and helps make life rich, exciting, and full of infinite possibilities. Solutions to problems are rapidly resolved, and you never know what next exciting thing is going to arise.
And where does it stop? It doesn’t – and that’s the fun of it. For instance, some years ago I was a member of Rotary – a great international volunteer organisation. As I write this article, more thanfour years since we moved out of that district, I’ve just been booked to do work for Tony, CEO of a large organisation more than 1,000 miles from both the Rotary club I’d belongedtoand to where we now live. A fellow past-member of my old club who now worksfor Tony hadsuggested me when the team needed time management help!
Give generously of your time, your energy and (sometimes) your money. We live in a world of abundance; networking with generosity is just one of the ways that abundance is manifested.