Over nearly eight years of coaching, with a goodly number of clients being professionals or business owners, I have found that roughly 85-90% of clients react to the word “networking” with anything from shuffling avoidance to full-on cringe. Then there’s the 10-15% who are all over it, love it, and just need tweaks to their systems. This goes out to all of you.
Let’s start with a couple of definitions.
What many people hear when I say networking: A process by which I am supposed to act friendly and interested for the sake of getting a desired professional outcome.
What I mean when I say networking: Relationship building.
This is an important distinction.
Am I suggesting that we never get strategic with our networking? Absolutely not. What I am suggesting is that we put networking into two broad categories and we treat every single person in each category as exactly what they are: Humans, with feelings, and their own needs and wants. I’m suggesting that we start not with the outcome we want – clients or customers – but with trust building.
In fact, what I’m saying is that trust building is not only nice but pragmatic.
At the end of the day, our intention with networking, this very specific form of relationship building, is to gain clients, most often through referrals. Yes, we will ideally network with prospective clients but we grow our web of interconnection by focusing on developing referral partnerships. That is: people who suggest our goods and services to other people.
Question: Why do we refer businesses and service providers?
Because we trust them. Because we believe that the person with whom we’re sharing the referral will have the same positive experience with the business as we’ve had – the same prompt service or attention to detail or polished product or perfectly braised tacos al pastor.
We don’t even have to know many of the details about the business to refer them if we trust them. We might say, “I don’t know if that builder does the kind of work you’re looking for but I trust that she’ll tell you the truth and give you some good insights if you give her a call.”
The bonus is that in building trusting relationships with referral partners, we might just score a pal or full-on friend in the process. I certainly have.
Earlier, I alluded to two big categories of networking. They are, as I call them, Strategic and Organic.
Strategic is, of course, reaching out to people who are likely to be in some way meaningful to your goals.
If you are a landscaper, then reaching out to deck and patio builders, stonemasons who build walkways and outdoor kitchens, builders, and others who are serving the same demographic in a different way is strategic. With trust built, these are people that you can swap referrals with until the cows come home. Meet any mortgage lender and you’ll find they have these relationships with real estate agents; meet any real estate agent and you’ll find they have their go-to mortgage lender.
Organic is reaching out to folks because they’re people and people are interesting. Of course, we don’t know who knows who or who might be relevant to our lives and so there is potential for these people to be beneficial to our goals, too. My mind goes immediately to a story Linda Howard told me about how her former partner is one of her best referral sources.
The bottom line is that networking is only daunting when we think of it as some other thing that involves contorting ourselves into unnatural interpersonal shapes. When we remember that we’ve been building relationships our whole life, and that networking is just building more, we can find the folks who are as motivated to promote our offerings as we are to promote theirs.
Okay, yeah, a blog post inevitably makes things like this seem easier than they are. If you’d like to more fully understand your relationship-building style and the networking strategy that works for you, I’m here to coach you through it.