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BDO Business Expo

by Graham Southwell

Recently I was invited to present on networking at the BDO Business Expo at the Quality Hotel, Plymouth International.

It was a fantastic event with a lot of positive discussion relating to networking and its importance during difficult financial times. BDO hosted a networking opportunity to close the day, demonstrating their commitment to backing the Taranaki business community and their understanding of the incredible value that comes from the people you meet and the connections you make. There were some key points that came out of this conference relating to the value of networking for creating opportunities that I would like to share with you now.

What is Networking?
Genuine networking is not swapping business cards; rather, it’s the active process of building and managing productive relationships. Networking is a controversial subject. Just the term itself elicits strong feelings, positive and negative. Some people swear by the practice of networking; others swear at it. But no matter how you feel about networking, a growing body of research reveals that success in business depends on technical competence and the ability to build strong relationships and networks of relationships.
It’s more than a way of gaining information and resources only when we’re in need.  Networking, when done masterfully, is a way for us to mitigate risks, heighten our successes, and expand our perspective of the world.  It supports uniting people in imaginative and unexpected ways that bring exponential returns to each person.

Don’t rush to grow your network – choose quality over quantity, and observe the cardinal rule of business networking – be patient!  Some of the most rewarding relationships take years to cultivate and come to fruition.

Why Network?
Networking represents our richest resource, what is often these days referred to as our “social capital.”  If our network is well-built and well-developed, we can derive information, ideas, leads, opportunities, financial capital, power, emotional support, goodwill, trust, and cooperation.

As strange as it may seem to some, many people become frightened by the thought of meeting someone new and introducing their plans or concepts. Others see it is an opportunity to have a platform, but those who truly understand the importance of networking understand that simply building relationships should be the purpose when networking.

How to Network?
Networking is a life skill.  It represents a different way of being in the world.  When I train new members in BNI – I make the point that we are all expert at listening out for referrals for ourselves – for buying signals that alert us to a potential need for something that we can provide.  The first step in developing your sales team – as we like to think of our BNI networking groups, is to educate your members on what you do – how to identify a need for your services – and what to say. However, the key step is to make a change in your mind-set.  Instead of being on the hunt for referrals for ourselves – the key is to be looking for opportunities for others.  You become a gatekeeper – a go to person – who do you know who can help me with ….?.  It is a great way of being.

Be alert. Pay attention. BE nice and for heaven’s sake, STOP treating everyone as a prospect. This may seem like contrarian piece of feedback, but I stand behind that advice. The best of communicators, interactors and sales people treat people as people! Shun the advice from any so called expert that turns you into the snake oil sales person – tips on how to conduct yourself at networking functions, how to collect business cards etc. Here are three more key tips to keep in mind:

TIP #1:  Attend at least two social events per month and make it your goal to meet three new contacts at each event.  After receiving a business card, jot down the name and date of the event and any relevant key words from your conversation.  Send a personalised, hand-written ‘thank you’ note to your contacts the following day to follow up on any items you discussed.  If you think it’s too much hassle, or that a ‘thank you’ note doesn’t matter in the days of email, think again.  Your note – not one of dozens of emails most busy people receive daily – will be the thing that sets you apart from the herd.

TIP #2:  When attending a business function, such as a conference or workshop, don’t sit next to your colleagues.  Get out there and meet new people!  Commit to adding at least five new high-quality contacts from each professional event.  As in the previous tip, don’t forget to follow-up after the event.

TIP #3:  Remember that when it comes to quality networking and building your social capital, quality eclipses quantity.  Be strategic and thoughtful in how you want to grow your networks.  Have a very specific idea about who you want to meet in what sectors of business, and position yourself to meet these people.

And finally, here are four ways to transform from a hunter to a farmer and start networking from the heart:

  • Change your attitude – don’t see networking as something that has to be done or an outcome that has to be achieved; see it as an opportunity to meet, learn about people and strengthen relationships.
  • Invest in social capital – don’t just think about what you can get from a networking event, think about what you can give.
  • Watch other successful business people – learn by emulating others; when you’re networking, study how highly successful philanthropic people are operating.
  • Be practical and proactive in your networking – don’t just move randomly from one networking event to another. Join a proven, professional networking organisation that allows only one person from each profession to join any group or chapter.

Remember, accumulating social capital means that you are building relationships. Relationships need to be cultivated, tended and cared for, and over time they will start to yield results. Networking is not a get rich quick scheme or something you can do from time to time – you need to work at it – to have a clear strategy and plan and to measure your goals.

“Networks are a vehicle to create value for everyone, not just claiming it for ourselves.”

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