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The G.A.I.N.S. Approach to Networking

Leave out any of these strategies, and your networking will be just a waste of time.

If you want to be successful in generating referrals, it's crucial to find out as much as you can about the members of your network. And there are five critical things that you must know if you truly want to be a productive networker. These five things are not mysterious secrets; they're actually facts we're exposed to every day but often pay little attention to because we're not aware of the benefits we can gain by sharing them. In our book, Business by Referral, Robert Davis and I call this sharing--the GAINS Exchange:

  • G oals
  • A ccomplishments
  • I nterests
  • N etworks
  • S kills

If you know the GAINS categories and use them effectively, you can strengthen your relationships, create strong organizations, and live a more rewarding, productive and enjoyable life. Of course, the exchange is a two-way street: Not only should you know these things about others, you should share the same type of information about yourself with them.

Goals

Goals are the financial, business, educational and personal objectives you want or need to meet for yourself and for the people who are important to you. They could be problems you want to resolve or decisions you need to make, either immediately or down the road.

Whatever they are, you need to clearly and specifically define your own goals and also have a clear picture of the other person's goals. Indeed, the best way to develop a relationship is by helping someone achieve something that's important to him or her. If you do, they'll remember you when you need help achieving your own goals. You'll become valuable sources for each other, and your relationship will endure.

Accomplishments

Some of your best insight into others comes from knowing what goals they've achieved, what projects they've completed, and what they've accomplished both for themselves and for others. Accomplishments, whether as student, employee, organization member, parent, friend, sports fan or neighbor, tell you more about a person than any number of intentions or attitudes.

People like to talk about the things they're proud of. Engage your network members in casual conversation; encourage them to talk about their accomplishments. Sharing your accomplishments may lead to fortuitous surprises, such as a mutual interest or a connection that can be beneficial for both of you.

Interests

Your interests--the things you enjoy doing, talking about, listening to or collecting--can help you connect with others. People are more willing to spend time with those who share their interests or know something about them.

Knowing other people's interests makes it easier to help them in some way. Let them know your interests as well; if you and your contact share many of the same interests, it will strengthen your relationship. Don't forget that your passions are your most important interests. A passion is something you love to do, something you could do all day long without encouragement or prodding from others.

Networks

A network starts with any group (formal or informal), organization, institution, company or individual you associate with for either business or personal reasons. Most business people have a broad network of contacts. The question is, how well cultivated are those contacts?

There's an old saying that goes, "It's not what you know but who you know." Well, I believe that it's not "what you know" or "who you know"--it's "how well you know them" that makes a difference. Each of us has sources in abundance that we don't effectively cultivate. Each member of your network is part of several other networks; each of your prospective sources is connected, directly and indirectly, with hundreds, even thousands of people you don't know. If you can tap the resources represented by your network of contacts, you can significantly increase your return on investment in networking.

Skills

The more you know about the talents, abilities and assets of the people in your network, the better equipped you are to find competent, affordable services when you or someone you know needs help. Think about what you do well and identify the special skills you have; exchanging this information will help business relationships grow as well.

Recording the GAINS You Discover

There are several ways to gather information about these five topics from your prospective network members or anyone else you deal with. To do so, you should listen, observe, ask questions, review written material, ask others and of course. share your GAINS.

To help you in this process, use the form at this URL to complete your GAINS Profile and the GAINS Profile of people in your network that you would like to know better. If you think that getting to know the GAINS of the people you deal with is too easy and you need a greater challenge, take the quiz at this URL to test your knowledge of each member of your network:

As you discover the GAINS of the people you're interested in, keep a record; otherwise, you're likely to forget important information. Use the GAINS Profile (or whatever database you utilize) to record the facts you learn about your most important contacts. Spend more time with the people you already know, particularly with those you believe you want to know better. Concentrate on learning these five essentials--their goals, accomplishments, interests, networks and skills. Find overlapping areas of knowledge and interest. Make sure you give back the same kind of information. The more they know about you, the faster your name will come to mind when an opportunity arises in which your products, services, knowledge, skills or experience might play a part.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Ivan Misner is founder and chairman of BNI, a professional business networking organization headquartered in Upland, Calif. He is co-author, with Hazel Walker and Frank De Raffele, of Business Networking and Sex: Not What You Think (Entrepreneur Press, 2012).
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