We all need one another to do things, to achieve our goals – at work, in the community. Yet, we often face challenges relating with them. By connecting and relating with other people, you can learn new skills and information that to enhance your business. If you are a creative person, there’s a great deal you can learn from others in your field. Non-profits can use strategic networking to spread awareness or raise funds. Activists network to make changes in their communities or society at large.
Most successful business owners will agree that there are three critical assets in their business: (1) customers, (2) products or services and (3) human resource or business relations
Without question, these assets take hard work to develop, but regrettably, the third one, business relationships, is one that often gets neglected. Relationships are difficult to build even during the best of times. When you are busy with all the other aspects of life, they are often the part that gets neglected – whether they are personal or business relationships.
When it comes to business networking – online or offline, keep the 4Rs in mind:
“If you treat people right they will treat you right – ninety percent of the time.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt
From time to time at my workshops, I come across attendees who believe that networking involves “using people” so they do not practise it at all. These people may have encountered self-interested networkers at business events. There is nothing intrinsically “good” or “bad” about networking; it’s really how we conduct ourselves. The rules of networking apply to life as well.
If you treat people with integrity and respect, you will be at an advantage at whatever you do, wherever you are.
Compared to my peers and younger people, I am lagging when it comes to networking in the online community and social media. However, I try to be visible by joining selected groups and better still start groups. Whatever the platform we network, values such as appreciation, trust and respect must take precedence because it involves an interdependence of people. I joined one online group – within a week, it grew to over 800 members from Singapore and countries in the region. The administrator had cautioned newcomers to add value and not to sell or promote their ware. Unfortunately, some continued to do so. Since I joined, I only posted short articles to encourage and challenge the entrepreneurs there. So far, members in the group seem to appreciate my sharing. There are some groups which encourages people to promote and publicise, while other groups are meant for learning, exchanging ideas and offering mutual support to like-minded individuals within each group.
When it comes to business by referrals, we all know that we put our reputation on the line when we refer people to service providers or suppliers we know. The one expecting referrals must have done something to gain the trust of the one referring him or her. It is not automatic. Effort has been put into the relationship building process. Effective and purposeful networking, like fine art, cannot be rushed. We have to nurture the contacts to develop them into networks of relationships.
What about bad experiences? Bear in mind that we cannot control the people around us. The next time you find yourself being taken advantage of by a fellow networker, instead of retaliating or burning bridges, give him or her a wider berth. We have all had a bad day before, haven’t we? Preserving our reputation allows us to reap better harvests at future networking events.
Prospecting is not networking. If you think you deserve the remuneration or recognition, you need to first build credibility and trust before you approach friends, clients or business associates to refer you business.
I recall a meeting I had with another trainer who has a similar training programme as mine, to explore collaborative possibilities. It was our first meeting and she was highly recommended by one of her past students. Over coffee, she was quick to offer me a referral incentive, saying that we could start collaborating by me referring people to her next workshop. I reminded her that our meeting was to discuss collaboration, not for me to be her referral agent. That same evening, she sent me an email, offering me an attractive referral fee to market her workshop. That was the end of a potentially rewarding referral relationship.
Purposeful and Planned
Nothing in life gets done without a well-thought out game plan. The same goes for profitable business networking. While it is true that you should always be in the networking mindset and connect with people whenever the opportunity presents itself, you will achieve the best results if you are organised and you follow a clearly crafted networking plan.
Note: This article was first published in The Straits Times 6 November 2015