Networking, The Super Seed
By Whitney Hill
CEO and Marketing Director, Carolina Web Consultants, Inc
Are you frustrated because networking to get business appears to be a waste of time? Are you networking at the right watering holes? Are you doing it the right way? Are you getting results? How often have you heard a professional who was new to networking complain that the leads group they were in was not getting them business, or that the business group they were a member of was a waste of time and money? Membership or participation in any networking group does not guarantee business unless you follow some basic principles:
1) Plant in the right field. When you get started, survey a number of different networking groups and find out which ones offer the best exposure for your business, which ones best fit with your marketing plan, and which ones compliment your personal marketing style the best. In this way you will ensure that you invest your time into the places that will yield the maximum return. Don’t make snap decisions. For example, if you are in a business to business segment and you join a leads group that is made up of consumer businesses, or if you are in the healthcare industry and you join a group with IT and communications people, you are not putting yourself into a good position for the best results to occur. Spend time to find the right networking forums for you and your business.
2) Plant good seeds. Instead of just focusing on what you can get out of the networking group, make your primary focus to look for ways to contribute to the group in the most efficient, effective manner possible. Make referrals, pass leads, make introductions, promote businesses that are in your group, share business information and take leadership roles where you are needed. The principle here is that you cannot give into a worthwhile endeavor and not get a multiplied return.
3) Tend your field. Building one on one relationships within your networking forums over a cup of coffee or a meal is where the real magic sets in. The individual relationships are the real glue of your personal network. Balance your time between establishing new relationships and maintaining your close contacts. Keep an A list of your closest partners. Maintain communication in a manner that fits your style. If you like to write then send notes, if you like to talk then make phone calls, and if you are spontaneous then send emails.
4) Do not dig your seed up. A farmer invests in seed, spends time preparing and planting, then waters and cares for the field. Early on, when nothing looks like it is happening, he does not go out and dig his seed up or move to another field, but instead waits patiently for his harvest to arrive. Networking is the same way. It will take time in most cases for you to cultivate trust and goodwill in your networking forums. Be patient and keep planting good seed. Your harvest will come, and when it comes, it will be multiplied.
5) Visit other fields. You main focus should be tending your own networking groups, but take occasion to step out and visit other ones. You can learn from other forums, make outside connections, and spread the word about your business to other professionals. Look for alliances outside of your regular networking forums. These relationships are something of value that you can bring back to your regular networking groups.
6) Be prepared for the harvest. When you start getting results, be ready to receive them. Be ready to professionally and effectively facilitate the leads, contacts, introductions, etc. that you receive.
7) Your harvest does not always come up where planted. Many times opportunities will arise from places that you did not plant. Congratulations! You are experiencing the benefits of the unseen law of sowing and reaping. This is the super seed. Receive it and do not try to figure everything out.
8) Harvest the field properly. When contacts and introductions are given, make sure that you provide feedback to the referrer on what happened. When the referrer sees that their trust in you was wisely given, they are going to feel all the more confident in sending the next referral. This feedback will encourage the referrer to send you more referrals. Rewards given in the right manner are wise. Take the referrer to lunch, give extra focus on helping them, send a note, or come up with a creative way to say thank you.
9) Evaluate your harvest and plan next year’s crop. There is a time when you need to take an honest look at your networking plan. Once a year, look at where your time and resources are being spent. Drop what is not working well, and move to a group with programs that may be more effective. Be careful how you do this evaluation. Hard metrics, like how many leads have I received, how many good contacts have I made and how many times has a relationship from this group helped me close a deal, need to be in the mix for your evaluation, but other soft indicators, like branding exposure, access to industry information and size of sphere of influence should be considered as well. These are often intuitive metrics and hard to measure, but they could be even more important to you and your business than are the concrete metrics. Changes in your business or the networking forums you are in may also dictate changes in where you spend your networking time. When you choose to leave a networking forum, do not just disappear. Exit gracefully and maintain key relationships.
In your networking, just remember this quote from the greatest networker of all time whose network continues 2000 years later, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Be a patient giver and a seed sower and watch the return come in.