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Get the Right Networking Mind-Set and Skill Set

Make more and better connections when you get your mind and skills in gear for networking.
July 24, 2006
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/159496

When you're thinking about becoming a more skilled networker, you usually think about what you can do to network more effectively. This includes teaching others what kinds of referrals you're looking for, asking for referrals from your clients, and using incentives for those referring you. These are all components of your skill set.

And while it's important to know the right things to do while networking, it's equally important to start thinking the right way to make your networking efforts as successful and dynamic as they can be. This involves altering your mind-set. Let's take an up-close look at some elements you'll want to include in your mind-set to ensure networking success:

1. The law of reciprocity or "givers gain" approach.
The law of reciprocity sets in motion in-kind responses of individuals based on the actions of others. I like to call this the "givers gain" approach. You shouldn't approach networking thinking "I did this for you, now what are you going to do for me?" Rather, you should remember the old adage "Give and you shall receive."

The law of reciprocity takes the focus off of what you stand to gain from the networking relationship, and in doing so, creates bonds based on trust and friendship. Put it to the test. You'll be amazed by the outcome.

2. Diversity in networking.
Look for groups that don't target people just like you. In this way, you'll broaden the net you seek to cast for referrals. There are many great networking organizations out there. If you stay only in groups that focus on your profession, you lose the breadth you need to develop a wide-reaching network.

3. Farming mentality.
For networking to yield extraordinary success, your mentality must be that of a farmer. He prepares the soil for months before ever planting the seeds. He tends the seedlings with care, feeding and watering them regularly, putting up a scarecrow to keep pesky birds away. It's a long, drawn-out process to go from seeding a field to harvesting the crops. There's no quick return.

Approaching networking with a mentality that focuses on the process of cultivating referrals will create the results you desire. Too many times I see professionals who are trying to grow their networks ask all the contacts they make at a mixer to visit their referral group, or keep them in mind for referrals as they give each new contact two or three of their business cards. This is way too soon. Think about that farmer diligently tending the seeds he has sown, and spend more time strengthening your friendships with those whom you wish to have as part of your networking circle.

Now that you have the basics for thinking about networking down pat, let's examine a few of the things you can do to develop a strong word-of-mouth-based business:

1. Activate the VCP process.
VCP stands for visibility, credibility and profitability. What you need to do in order to be visible, credible and profitable takes a certain skill set. Things like participating in monthly mixers hosted by your local chamber of commerce, writing a regular column in your local newspaper or sponsoring the Little League team are things that make you visible. (See "Build Relationships That Last" to learn more about the VCP process.)

As you become more and more visible in your business community, you'll develop credibility. People will recognize that you're here for the long haul, and you'll begin to receive quality referrals. So look for opportunities to make yourself more visible. Think out of the box--be creative!

2. Sharpshoot, don't shotgun.
When talking about their businesses, many entrepreneurs try to get everything they do into a 30-second pitch--and potential referral sources miss most of it. They tune out after the first few items on the list.

Instead, you should focus on your top two or three areas of expertise. Keep in mind that you're not marketing to your referral sources. In effect, you're training a sales force. Your networking team is there to keep an eye out for potential clients. If you communicate exactly what type of client you're looking for, better, more qualified referrals will result.

This skill set is especially productive when you're meeting weekly with a strong contact network. The difference between trying to say it all and focusing on one aspect of your business each week is huge.

3. Hold one-on-ones.
Conducting a one-on-one is almost like doing an interview, except that you both get to ask questions. The idea is to share something in each category you discuss with your referral source. I once had the chance to see how this literally transformed a networking relationship between two businessmen who'd been in the same networking group for quite some time but hadn't really made a deeper connection.

The two begrudgingly took my recommendation to do a GAINS exchange--to talk about their goals, achievements, interests, networks and successes--and found that they had quite a few things in common. They both coached their young daughters' soccer teams, they both collected sports teams' hats, and their college degrees were in the same field. These two seemingly disinterested people became very close and developed the type of networking relationship that most only dream about.

See how networking is as much a mind-set as it is a skill set? Clearly, there are many things to do that will make your networking attempts successful, but there are also a good many things to be that are equally important to this art.