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Great Business Networking in Four Easy Steps

Business networking sounds great in principle but typically falls short in practice, especially if your goal is to do more than fill up your business card file.
People who contact me hoping to "network" are often really saying, "Hey, I want you to do something for me." So I'm admittedly cynical.

Then I experienced business networking done well.

Here's the story:

Sometimes I check to see who tweets my BNET posts so I can better understand reader interests. Unless their Twitter bio is horrible I occasionally follow their link to learn more about a person or company. Then hopefully their About Us page is terrific.

Very occasionally I send someone a note, like the one I sent David Baker, the head of ReCourses:

Hi David, was doing quick analytics on a BNET post of mine, saw you tweeted it. Thanks for the kind words. I checked out your site... motorcycle racing! Man after my own heart. Regards --

(I included the comment about motorcycle racing to show I really had checked out his website and wasn't just spamming him.)

Although I didn't expect a reply, David thanked me and said:

Here's something I came across that might give you terrific publicity -- it just came across the profnet wire: "A leading webinar publisher is seeking an expert to lead a 60-minute webinar on the topic of "Writing Skills..."

Then, in closing he offered to send me a free copy of his book, Managing (Right) for the First Time.

So what happened? I checked out the webinar opportunity but decided I wasn't interested since it was more exploitation than exposure, at least for me.

Still, his gesture did make an impact and created a connection, so I read his book.

Turns out it's very good and addresses a real need. Many people are promoted into leadership positions because they were great at a lower-level job, like the outstanding machine operator who is promoted to line supervisor or the sales superstar who is promoted to sales manager. Performing well in your current job doesn't mean you can effectively lead others who perform that job, though, because the skills required are very different.

David's book fills the gap and helps first-time managers get off to a great start. If you place employees in leadership positions consider handing them a copy when you offer the promotion.

In terms of business networking, here's what David did right:

  1. He offered first. David didn't ask for anything. He just offered me something. Always offer when you reach out; don't ask.
  2. He offered something relevant and potentially valuable. The webinar opportunity was pertinent -- he clearly took the time to find out what might interest or be of use to me -- and under the right circumstances might have been worthwhile. Never offer an "opportunity" that is light (or nonexistent) on the quid and heavy on the pro quo.
  3. He followed through effectively. Not only did he send me his book, he also included a copy of our email exchange. Smart move since I receive stacks of unsolicited books every week. When you follow through, provide context: A quick note, your business card... anything that helps establish and reinforce the business relationship you hope to build.
  4. He didn't try to sell. Unlike sales, where asking for the sale is an essential part of closing a deal, networking should be more subtle. Don't ask -- just provide. When what you provide is of value, people respond. When what you provide is not of value, asking does you no good.
Great networking starts with giving, never with receiving. While you eventually may hope to receive, you first must provide: Information, contacts, resources... something of real value to the other party. Asking for something first isn't networking -- it's just asking.

And you know how far that gets you.

Photo courtesy flickr user avixyz, CC 2.0