Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Networking Strategies for Success

All businesses, small and large, need to explore every possible venue to grow. A venue that is extremely valuable, but underutilized, is networking. Networking, sometimes referred to relationship selling, includes the sharing of ideas, resources, and other information that can benefit all parties. Jessica Lipnack and Jeffery Stamps in the ‘Networking Book’ define networking as people connecting with people, linking ideas and resources. Ronald L. Krannich in ‘Network Your Way to a Job’ and ‘Career Success’ states that networking is a communication process – exchanging information and receiving advice and referrals. Networking relates to results, relationships, effectiveness, and efficiency, and involves promoting yourself and others, giving, receiving, contributing, accepting and supporting. These words reflect a mutually beneficial relationship.

Networking has often been compared to other means of generating business such as cold calling, advertising and public relationships, but networking usually comes out on top in terms of providing the greatest return on investment. People like to do business with people that they trust and where there is confidence in the quality of service provided. There are many benefits to networking: it has been shown to generate 80 percent more results than cold calling; referral business compared to business generated from advertising is easier to close and costs a lot less; and a referred customer has a higher sense of trust, has fewer objections and remains a client longer. Networking is typically far less expensive compared to an extensive public relations campaign.

Another aspect of networking today is the need for relationships. Every relationship is th one of give and take. Ivan Misner, founder of Business Networking International and author of numerous best sellers on networking, coined the phrase “givers gain.” Relationships are more important today than ever because our work environment is in constant change, the workplace has become technological in nature, our job descriptions and roles have become broader in nature, we experience more stress than ever before, and living without a strong reference group is a troubling phenomenon of modern times. People, who fail to realize that in the end that all business is conducted through personal relationships, will fail themselves.

The following are some opportunities for networking:
- Casual Contact: Any general business that allows membership to include many people from various overlapping professions. An example of such would be your local chamber of commerce.
- Strong Contact: Any group that allows only one member per profession or business that meets weekly for the express purpose of exchanging leads and referrals.
- Community Service: Any group that exists for the primary purpose of serving the community, such as Rotary, Kiwanis, or Lions.
- Professional Organizations and Associations: Any group of people in a single profession or business, whose primary purpose is to exchange information and ideas, such as a state medical equipment supplier or a local managed care group of nurses.
- Social and Business Groups: Any group with a dual purpose that combines pleasure with business with the emphasis on the social aspect. Examples of such are the Jaycees or a Gourmet Club.
- Women’s Business Organizations: The National Federation of Business and Professional Women.

Your best plan is to visit several networking opportunities within each group and select a well-rounded mix of organizations to join. Make sure that you visit each at least twice and talk to the members to get your questions answered.

Remember, sales are like hunting for new customers and networking is like farming because you are cultivating relationships. To be successful in networking, you must first participate, communicate, education, and then reciprocate. If you haven’t done any networking to date, then start now by sitting down and creating your networking referral marketing plan.

By Richard Hohmann