Business Networking.  Thom Singer, CSP.  Keynote Speaker.

Business networking skills are you secret weapon for finding opportunities. Cultivating relationships is how the most successful people have reached the top of their professions. Regardless of if you are working for the Fortune 500 or run small businesses, successful networking is going to mean you will have more potential clients and job offers than the people who fail to cultivate business relationships.

Let’s get this out of the way up front…. Networking is not about schmoozing or collecting business cards. There are many people who are out there talking about how networking events are a waste of time or why they “hate networking”. These anti-networking gurus are hungry to get people to agree with them, then they rename the best parts of networking and teach them as if they invented something new.

Networking Defined

Networking for business is often mislabeled and misunderstood. There are many activities that fall under the umbrella of “networking”, but unto themselves are not the whole. Networking groups are a good way to meet people, but meeting someone does not make them part of your network. Belonging to the same Chamber of Commerce or following them on social media does not mean you have a real connection.

What Networking is:

“Networking is the creation of long-term and mutually beneficial relationships between two or more people where everyone involved has more success because of the connections than they would have without them”

No matter how people want to spin what it means to have business networking relationships, the reality is there is power in connection. People do business with those they know, like, and trust. However, over the past decade the meaning of “know” has changed in society. The creation of online social networks have lead many to believe they “know” everyone. It used to be a process to get to know someone, now believe we are there with a few clicks on LinkedIn.

The problem with the superficial way of knowing others it that we don’t get to like and trust as often. Yet when you do get to that level of connection, that is where the magic happens.

Business Networking Events

The real networking does not happen at networking events. People mistake the chit-chat over cheap wine to be how business networking relationships with people are formed. The event is really just a tool to put you in a place together. The real networking is in the follow up, and it can take years.

Many conferences have “Speed Networking” sessions.  These are a great way to meet people at an event, but two minutes and a business card exchange really is useless without more conversations and developing understanding and friendship.

Referral groups like BNI (Business Network International) are a good way to get business owners and others into the same place. However many of these groups force the interaction, and this is not right for everyone.

My advice for face to face events is to find a few groups that work for you. If BNI is not your thing, look for other business professional meetings where you can invest your time.Groups like The Association for Corporate Growth, Rotary, The Jaycees, etc.. all have different purposes and bring together a variety of types of business professionals. Remember, it can take seven to ten times before the people at these meetings even notice you, so do not expect networking to be a fast process.

Give Before You Get

When actively creating business networking relationships you have to keep in mind that other people are rarely there to help you. They have their own needs and are there looking to solve problems. To get the most from building relationships in these setting you have to show up with the attitude of serving others first.

When you meet people do not lead with a canned “elevator pitch” where you let them know all about your products and services. Instead, ask a lot of questions about them. Discover information about their business and who they have as clients. Ask them what challenges they face. If you regularly help others you will build a reputation of being someone that others should get to know.

Never keep score. Just because you helped someone does not mean you should expect them to do something for you. While this practice of helping others means you will give more than you get, the upside is you will get more than you would have if you were self-serving in all your efforts.

Networking is NOT a Verb.

You do not “go” networking. Building networking relationships is a lifestyle. If you want to grow your career remember that all opportunities come from people. Your connections with others should as important as anything else you do in your career.

Business networking is important. Do not roll your eyes. Look closely at how others see you and make sure you are working hard to cultivate long term connections that help you and the other people.

Thom Singer has been speaking at association and corporate conferences on the topic of connecting with people in our gadget crazed world for over ten years. He is a business motivational speaker and the author of 12 books on the power of relationships, business networking, public speaking, legal marketing and entrepreneurship.