If you're like most business owners, you've either read or been told that the key to success in business is networking. It's the way to meet the key people who will become your clients, suppliers and support systems. It's how you build relationships as an entrepreneur. But are you out there networking?
Probably not, because you've probably never been taught how to do it. Authors Donna Fisher and Sandy Vilas are on a mission to change that with Power Networking: 59 Secrets for Personal & Professional Success. We've asked Fisher to explain the true meaning of networking and how it can help you be a better businessperson.
Entrepreneur.com: What do people usually think networking is, and how does this differ from the true definition?
Donna Fisher: A lot of people think networking is about getting something from people, but the true spirit of networking has to do with connecting and building relationships with people to generate mutual value and benefit. And a lot of people think that networking is about getting something from other people. Often, when people shift their attitude [and realize the true meaning], they become more comfortable and at ease about asking people to give and contribute to them.
|"Networking is really about our people skills, our ability to connect, our ability to show a natural interest in people, and at the same time, our ability to ask for what we want and need and our ability to accept the resources and assistance of the people around us. "|
Entrepreneur.com: What fears do people have about networking that stops them from taking part?
Fisher: People are afraid of coming across as too strong or too aggressive, and they get concerned about what other people are going to think. [They wonder,] "Are they going to think I'm just out to use them? Am I going to look needy if I ask for help?" And that is, again, really a misperception based on a misunderstanding of networking. Because if the focus is on building relationships, then there's automatically a mutual respect, dignity and interest in being a support to one another.
The other thing that gets in the way is that people haven't been taught the specifics so they don't know what's appropriate. The more information we have about anything, the more comfortable we're going to feel about pursuing that. So [people need to get] information about what networking is and what it isn't, how to approach people, what to say, how to introduce yourself, how to ask for help, how to follow up, and how to stay in touch. Once people have more information and they realize that this is what other people are doing and it's acceptable, then they [realize they can do it, too.]
In our culture, there's a lot of talk about networking. But people say, "Oh, you're going to start your own business? Well, then you need to be out there networking." And people say, "Oh, yeah I know." But they don't really know. They haven't been taught. Any skill people do really well, it looks like they're a natural and so we think they're a natural. But no-they've spent years taking classes and practicing until they got to the point where they were so masterful at it, it looked natural. You never notice when masterful networkers are networking. It's just a natural part of what they do. It has to do with the way they listen, the way they connect with people, the questions they ask, how they show an interest, the way they gather information, how they remember information about people, the way they follow up, the way they stay in touch, and the way they act as a resource. And out of that, magical things happen around them. But it's really about our people skills, our ability to connect, our ability to show a natural interest in people and, at the same time, our ability to ask for what we want and need and our ability to accept the resources and assistance of the people around us.
Entrepreneur.com: What are the benefits of networking properly?
Fisher: It's a timesaver. You get your phone calls returned more quickly and easily when you've got a strong network. You've got strong connections with people. You've got quicker and easier access to more information, ideas and contacts. [And because it's] a timesaver, it can make you more efficient and productive. You develop stronger relationships both personally and professionally. And it leads to more opportunities, [which can mean] more business, new business, new contacts, new clients, growing your business and more money. So that's a really valid benefit. The important thing to realize is the concept of networking is much broader than [just making more money] and that added business comes out of building relationships.
Entrepreneur.com: Why is etiquette and courtesy a big part of networking?
Fisher: Courtesy and etiquette really have to do with interacting with people with respect and dignity, and that's what will produce trust and relatedness. People prefer and will likely choose to do business with people they know, like and trust. Most people may not tell you that's what they're basing their buying decision on. They'll ask what your prices are and what your experience is, but they'll also, from a gut level, respond to how they're treated and the energy and rapport they feel with people. I like convenience and it's a big factor for me, but I tend to go out of my way for someone who treats me really well and takes great care of me as a client vs. someone who might be more convenient. And I think that's true for people in general.
Entrepreneur.com: How is being organized important to power networking?
Fisher: It's really easy to meet people. That can happen very naturally and automatically. The [important] thing is: Are you paying attention to people when you meet them? Are you connecting? Are you gathering information? Are you really listening in a way that you hear opportunities? You need to be organized so you can follow up. If you meet someone and you didn't keep track of their name, address and phone number, you will come across something you need or want from them or want to give to them, and you've lost the opportunity. You've lost the groundwork that was laid in just meeting them.
That's why technology is becoming [so important] to networking. It gives us many ways to keep track of lots of information and to stay in touch with people easily. It can keep me on track because [a contact management program] can remind me to call so-and-so in two weeks or to send information to them, or give me a place to make notes under your name saying your favorite hobby is such-and-such so I can retain that information.