I've never been a fan of traditional networking. It looks something like this: You're at a conference. You have a brief conversation with someone (who's scoping the room as she speaks to you) and at the end of your chat, unprompted, she pulls out her business card and gives it to you. You put the card in your bag with no intention of ever using it.
Perhaps you're the person shoving your business card on someone, then wondering why you can't make good business connections. Whether you're the business card "shover" or the "shovee," what's clear is that traditional networking rarely leads to productive business relationships.
Traditional networking tactics don't work because they're predatory. People stalk each other like prey with the sole purpose of, "What can you do for me?" Moreover, traditional networkers tend to think that the person who they've set their sights on should readily lend assistance to their cause. It's akin to a woman on a first date asking the man to pay her mortgage. It's inappropriate to ask a stranger to help you out. Moreover, it's likely that such a self-centered action will sink the relationship before it had a chance to begin.
I have met some wonderful business contacts and mentors but I didn't do it using traditional networking strategies. I started my relationships with them by having conversations. It's not a novel concept, but it's one that's largely overlooked by entrepreneurs. It may then take several conversations for me to ascertain whether or not I'm aligned with a particular person or her business. Once that's established, then it's the time to see how we can mutually support each other.
Rather than networking, I coach entrepreneurs to build relationships with like-minded people.
Most successful entrepreneurs have a group of trusted counselors who they can turn to for advice and assistance. People, however, aren't going to give their time, energy or resources to a stranger. Relationship building takes time and frequently it requires that you prove that you're worth the effort. It also means that you understand that when you come to the table, it's not just to take; you need to offer something of value to the other party.
Here are my three tips for productive relationship building
1. Learn to Follow-Up
If you meet someone at a conference on Friday, Monday send them a brief email. Your email should give some information about what you discussed with the person and you should request a 10-15 minute chat. This chat is an opportunity for you to learn more about the person and her business — not to ask for anything. Understand that it may take you more than a few tries to get on this person's calendar.
2. Get Offline Quickly
If you meet someone on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, after a few exchanges it's time to request a brief phone or Skype call. Online exchanges are very good places to become introduced to someone. However, I don't believe that social media can be used to gauge whether or not there's synergy between you and the other person. This is important if you're contemplating entering into a business relationship.
3. Go to Places that Interest You
Seminars and conferences aren't the only places to meet potential clients, business partners or mentors. In reality many connections are made in informal settings. It may then make sense to go your friend's dinner party or to your acquaintances art show. Similarly, in your community, there are organizations and causes that you can participate in that will allow you to meet people who share your values, interests and beliefs. These people could be instrumental to your business.
Yvonne Bynoe is a certified business and marketing coach.
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