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Effective Networking Builds Business

by Donna Messer & Steven Bochenek

Donna Messer is the founder of ConnectUs Communications Canada, author of effective Networking Strategies, and a key note speaker and seminar leader. Nominated for entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young, Donna travels across Canada and throughout the world teaching effective networking skills.

Many people harbor misconceptions about networking. The cliché of wealthy men playing the power game on an exclusive golf course is no longer an accurate picture. The truth is, people network to build contacts, meet new friends and associates, find employment and to achieve goals.
There are 10 rules for effective networking, and good net workers follow them diligently. They find, as you will, that doing so pays off handsomely.

Rules 1 & 2: Be prepared; Be open-minded

We already have a network. The problem is many of us don’t know how to tap into it, and use our network wisely. Always be ready. Keep plenty of business cards on your person, and an eye out for connections between people you know. Far too many people fail to make the right connections because of narrow thinking.

The single most important networking skill to develop is lateral thinking. Look at things differently to see connections between everyone in your network. It’s all about helping fulfill someone else’s needs.

Say, for instance, you’re a caterer, constantly cooking. It’s no trouble for you to make a little extra of a given dish and freeze it. But the accountant who does your books is swamped between January and March, and may be interested in easy-to-microwave, frozen gourmet meals. You’ve just made an unconventional connection: your bean counter is now counting on your bean soup! That’s just one example. Using the tools of good networking, a profitable link can always be made.

Attending events sponsored by the Board of Trade, Local Chamber of Commerce, or Service Club is a great way to build business opportunities. Make sure when you attend that you have done your homework. Know the type of people you will be meeting and dress for success. Your attire makes a statement.

If you have a name that can be related to something that helps people remember you, use it to yourself. "Hello my name is Ralph Greene. Like the color, with an extra "e". Or, "My name is Susan Banks - wish I could give you a loan." This is a simple memory trick, and you may even have to go beyond your comfort level, but you will be surprised just how many people will remember you, your name and your business.

Rules 3 & 4: Don’t be afraid to ask; Treat everyone in your network as equals.

Careful listening is another important tool. You will be amazed at how easy it is to connect people if you really listen to what is being said. Standing tall, given a firm handshake and delivering a brief introduction, while looking your audience in the eye is also very important. When networking with a new acquaintance in a business milieu, start your conversation with, "Hello, my name is , How can I help you?"

In every instance, the reply will be the same: "I don’t know. Tell me what you do." This opening will give you the opportunity to give your one minute infomercial. Good networking requires that you have a synopsis of yourself and what you do. Your infomercial provides all of the information needed to allow the other person to decide how you can help... and whether they can help you. A good one minute introduction is almost a guarantee of success in networking.

Once you’ve seen a connection be sure to state what you want point blank, because everybody wins when you connect.

Network everywhere. Take advantage of travel and introduce yourself to traveling companions. Remember, everybody knows somebody you would like to know...and vice-versa...so treat everyone equally. You never know when you might make the right connection. The man who services your car in the winter is probably open to hearing more about your sister’s discount travel agency.

Rules 5 & 6: Build your network on information, not status; Say thank you.

Remember, everybody benefits, when we network properly. It’s about sharing knowledge with others. So it only follows that everybody has something helpful for everyone else. Barbara Crowhurst, whose story is featured here, networks as comfortably with leading retailers as students from Sheridan College. *

Always thank those who made time for you. Even if you haven’t closed a deal, you’ve opened a door. And thanking people for their time and efforts is not only good business. It’s common courtesy.

Rules 7 & 8: Don’t waste your resources; Give without expectation.

With lateral thinking everyone can connect. But not everyone will want to. Never force yourself on someone who’s not interested. If you’re hitting a stone wall, go around it. Collect back those pamphlets you distributed that are probably going to end up in the trash. Stop leaving unanswered voice-mails. If they want to get back to you they will.

Instead use that time positively to nurture the contacts you have. Selflessly help those people whenever you can. They won’t forget any favors and your efforts will ultimately pay huge dividends.

Rules 9 & 10: Set realistic and achievable goals; Be committed and determined to do whatever it takes.

Be absolutely honest...with others and especially with yourself. Assess exactly where you are and where you want to be. The gap between these two areas can be connected by good networking.

Now go to it and remember rule 3. Don’t be afraid to start asking. Somebody out there not only has what you want, but wants what you have to offer.

While rules and statistics are important it’s much easier to learn by example. The following story is about just one of the many people in my networking who has used my methods and grown her business dramatically.

Barbara Crowhurst of the Visual Marketing company designs sales environments. Everything from retail store shelves and wholesalers’ showrooms, to consumer or trade show booths, to front windows, signs, props, and much more. Barbara believes whole-heartedly in the ConnectUs 10 Rules of Networking. And she believes that the referral she has received through networking have been the foundation on which her business has been built. Those referral come from surprising sources. As comfortable networking with students she instructs at Sheridan College, as with international wholesalers, Barbara is finding more and more opportunities landing in her lap. Lateral thinking has stretched her business beyond what she first established. "If you’re not open-minded, you’re gonna learn from the school of hard knocks. New opportunities open in your own discipline. Otherwise, you’re just closing doors." Rule 10 is the most important to Barbara. Without total commitment to a project, an opportunity simply becomes an opportunity missed. " I have a client who called me 20 times yesterday. Every time I took the call, no matter what time of day. Nothing she could ask me for is not doable. That’s how I do my job." And it seems to be working.

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Close your eyes. Relax and walk with me through that forest. Take the time to experience the forest, tell me, what does it look like?
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