Networking Is Not a Dirty Word

Being a successful networker doesn't mean you have to be a slimebag. Here's how to schmooze with the best of them...without selling out.

Abdel-Rahim Mohammed woke up in a cramped metal box. He could hear whispering. It was dark. According to the Associated Press, which reported this story last summer, all the 32-year-old Arabic teacher knew was that one moment, he was swimming at the beach in Alexandria, Egypt, got dizzy and blacked out.

What Mohammed didn't immediately realize was that he was in a refrigerated morgue. But nearby was an attendant showing a grieving family a body. As the attendant tried to shut the compartment, Mohammed's hand clamped down on the guy's wrist.

The attendant--and the family--ran out of the morgue, screaming, "Help us!"

Mohammed, numb from cold, pried himself out of his compartment, left the morgue and called his family, who had been told he was dead.

It's clear what all of us are thinking: If this guy ever wanted to start his own business, he'd be great at networking!

Oh. Was that, um, the last thing you were thinking? Well, maybe so, but it's worth noting that Mohammed is likely going to be remembered around parts of Egypt for the rest of his life. And in the business world, where everybody's clamoring for attention, an entrepreneur with a tale like that to tell would have the spotlight for life: "Say, Phil, I wanted to discuss venture capital possibilities. And, by the way, did I ever tell you about the time I was declared dead and dropped off at the morgue?"

The rest of us mere mortals have to try a little harder to get noticed and be remembered. We have to do some serious networking. The good news: It doesn't require a trip to the morgue. You can meet potential clients anywhere, as Jay Bloom, 31, CEO of Pet Assure, a pet-care savings program in Dover, New Jersey, found out. The guy who sold Bloom his house became one of Pet Assure's biggest investors. Entrepreneurs can network at baseball games, birthday parties, weddings, ski slopes, swimming pools, in airports and while waiting in line. "I have something called the 3-foot rule," says Deb Haggerty, founder of Positive Connections, an Orlando, Florida, consulting firm that delivers seminars on networking. "Anybody within 3 feet--the space it takes to shake hands--is a business contact."

Of course, the last thing you want is to be an overly enthusiastic boob who shakes everybody's hands and thrusts business cards into their grips. Which is why it should come as a relief to the introverted and extroverted alike that networking doesn't have to be a grueling process of selling yourself-or, worse, pushing yourself on people.

Haggerty, like everybody interviewed for this story, suggests you worry more about what you can do for the other person than for yourself. The idea is to create your own personal network, not unlike NBC, ABC, AOL or Yahoo!. If you have numerous colleagues (think: affiliate stations or Internet members) who know and like you, eventually that's going to come back to you and translate into dollars.

Ah, you're catching on: Pretend you don't care about money and, in the process, become filthy rich? Er, yes, that's the idea . . . and even if you do occasionally thrust your business card into somebody's hand with hardly a how-do-you-do, you shouldn't feel guilty or awkward. As 35-year-old Ben Feder, founder of MessageClick, an online unified messaging and outsource faxing service in New York City, says, "Chance meetings are often as beneficial to the other person as they are to you. Whether it's a board member or a financier or an employee, people are looking for opportunities. By presenting them with an opportunity, you're not crossing any moral boundaries. Besides, they're always free to say no."

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Networking Is Not a Dirty Word.

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