Networking: The word is so overused and so overplayed that it has kind of lost its meaning - or maybe any meaning at all. It’s accepted as a best-practices business standard, something as everyday as distributing resumes, but we have to wonder, does it even really exist? We’re not trying to get too philosophical on you. But if it does exist, are we doing it right?
In our estimation, most business professionals’ experience with networking is a lot of emailing and pavement pounding with very few results. But there are some people who’ve mastered the art, including our very own cash management expert Anthony Ramella. So we asked him how you can copy his success.
Is networking something other than handing out business cards and sending random invitations to connect on LinkedIn? Is it a skill that can be learned or finite steps that can be followed?
With Anthony’s help, we decided to try to define this ephemeral noun-adjective-verb and this is the result. Here is your very own secret formula to achieve networking nirvana.
The main ingredient of an effective networking formula is membership in a structured group or organization that’s serious about networking. Anthony tried one Meet Up group after another, but they never gave him the traction he needed until he found Business Network International (BNI). The group’s formal structure, he says, is what makes it work.
BNI hosts weekly breakfast meetings and quarterly after-hours events, both formal and casual. The group has attendance and participation requirements; members are even assessed on the quality of the referrals they give to their peers. Group members are extremely intentional about growing their contact lists - and thus, their businesses. Anthony attributes his recent successes directly to BNI.
It is imperative that you are highly visible in the community. The more engaged you are, the more contacts you will generate; the more familiar you are, the more willing prospects will be to do business with you. You should frequently attend, sponsor, and host industry events. Sport your colors, emblazon your organization’s name on your forehead.
This ingredient may seem pretty obvious, but visibility doesn’t do much good without authority.Take pains to become a thought leader in your field - a smart content marketing strategy or in-person workshops are a good way to accomplish this.
Anthony is the president of his BNI chapter and, as you know, contributes to our Business Forum, which offers relevant, informative, and entertaining financial content.
We must wholly reorganize our thinking about networking; it should be approached not from a “me” mentality, but a “we” mentality. Business Network International organizes its chapters with one representative from each industry who refers clients to their fellow members. Anthony gives an example of the “power team,” which comprises a jeweler, travel agent, limousine company, event planner, printer, photographer, etc. The jeweler refers recently engaged couples to the printer for invitations and the printer refers them to the event planner and on and on until all of the couple’s wedding needs have been met.
Do your research! The more you know about related fields, the better you can meet your customers’ needs. Thanks to BNI, Anthony works closely with a real estate attorney, a CPA, and a commercial realtor. The more he learns about those industries, the more valuable referrals he can give and receive.
Forget competition, forget 100% market share, forget squirreling away contacts and ideas. If you’re helping other organizations, your customer will recognize that you’re putting their needs, the community’s needs, first. Contribute to the collective pool; a rising tide lifts all boats.
As Seth Godin says, authors are particularly good at championing each other. They get along, write positive reviews for other authors’ dust jackets, and scramble to have their book placed on the most crowded shelf. Do you write positive reviews for your direct competitors? If the thought makes your skin crawl, maybe you’re doing this whole thing wrong.
By now, this last component shouldn’t surprise you. Networking is all about connection. Treat your contacts like real people, not just a means to an end. Engage in relationship building, identify their needs, and work to solve their problems…and you’ll both reap more in the end. What could be simpler than connecting to people?
*Shout out to Elise Holtzman for the term “Networking Nirvana”