Networking Expert Donna Fisher Learn how to create a powerful professional network.

By Laura Tiffany

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you're like most business owners, you've either reador been told that the key to success in business is networking.It's the way to meet the key people who will become yourclients, suppliers and support systems. It's how you buildrelationships as an entrepreneur. But are you out therenetworking?

Power Networking: 59 Secrets for Personal & Professional SuccessProbably not, because you've probably never been taught how todo it. Authors Donna Fisher and Sandy Vilas are on a mission tochange that with Power Networking: 59 Secrets for Personal &Professional Success. We've asked Fisher to explain thetrue meaning of networking and how it can help you be a betterbusinessperson. What dopeople usually think networking is, and how does this differ fromthe true definition?

Donna Fisher: A lot ofpeople think networking is about getting something from people, butthe true spirit of networking has to do with connecting andbuilding relationships with people to generate mutual value andbenefit. And a lot of people think that networking is about gettingsomething from other people. Often, when people shift theirattitude [and realize the true meaning], they become morecomfortable and at ease about asking people to give and contributeto them.

"Networking is really about our people skills, ourability to connect, our ability to show a natural interest inpeople, and at the same time, our ability to ask for what we wantand need and our ability to accept the resources and assistance ofthe people around us. " What fearsdo people have about networking that stops them from takingpart?

Fisher: People are afraid ofcoming across as too strong or too aggressive, and they getconcerned about what other people are going to think. [Theywonder,] "Are they going to think I'm just out to usethem? Am I going to look needy if I ask for help?" And thatis, again, really a misperception based on a misunderstanding ofnetworking. Because if the focus is on building relationships, thenthere's automatically a mutual respect, dignity and interest inbeing a support to one another.

The other thing that gets in the way is that people haven'tbeen taught the specifics so they don't know what'sappropriate. The more information we have about anything, the morecomfortable we're going to feel about pursuing that. So [peopleneed to get] information about what networking is and what itisn't, how to approach people, what to say, how to introduceyourself, how to ask for help, how to follow up, and how to stay intouch. Once people have more information and they realize that thisis 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. Butpeople say, "Oh, you're going to start your own business?Well, then you need to be out there networking." And peoplesay, "Oh, yeah I know." But they don't really know.They haven't been taught. Any skill people do really well, itlooks like they're a natural and so we think they're anatural. But no-they've spent years taking classes andpracticing until they got to the point where they were so masterfulat it, it looked natural. You never notice when masterfulnetworkers are networking. It's just a natural part of whatthey do. It has to do with the way they listen, the way theyconnect with people, the questions they ask, how they show aninterest, the way they gather information, how they rememberinformation about people, the way they follow up, the way they stayin touch, and the way they act as a resource. And out of that,magical things happen around them. But it's really about ourpeople skills, our ability to connect, our ability to show anatural interest in people and, at the same time, our ability toask for what we want and need and our ability to accept theresources and assistance of the people around us. What arethe benefits of networking properly?

Fisher: It's atimesaver. You get your phone calls returned more quickly andeasily when you've got a strong network. You've got strongconnections with people. You've got quicker and easier accessto more information, ideas and contacts. [And because it's] atimesaver, it can make you more efficient and productive. Youdevelop 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 andmore money. So that's a really valid benefit. The importantthing to realize is the concept of networking is much broader than[just making more money] and that added business comes out ofbuilding relationships. Why isetiquette and courtesy a big part of networking?

Fisher: Courtesy andetiquette really have to do with interacting with people withrespect and dignity, and that's what will produce trust andrelatedness. People prefer and will likely choose to do businesswith people they know, like and trust. Most people may not tell youthat'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'retreated and the energy and rapport they feel with people. I likeconvenience and it's a big factor for me, but I tend to go outof my way for someone who treats me really well and takes greatcare of me as a client vs. someone who might be more convenient.And I think that's true for people in general. How isbeing organized important to power networking?

Fisher: It's really easyto meet people. That can happen very naturally and automatically.The [important] thing is: Are you paying attention to people whenyou meet them? Are you connecting? Are you gathering information?Are you really listening in a way that you hear opportunities? Youneed to be organized so you can follow up. If you meet someone andyou didn't keep track of their name, address and phone number,you will come across something you need or want from them or wantto give to them, and you've lost the opportunity. You'velost the groundwork that was laid in just meeting them.

That's why technology is becoming [so important] tonetworking. It gives us many ways to keep track of lots ofinformation and to stay in touch with people easily. It can keep meon track because [a contact management program] can remind me tocall so-and-so in two weeks or to send information to them, or giveme a place to make notes under your name saying your favorite hobbyis such-and-such so I can retain that information.

Wavy Line

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