The Only Business Networking Guide You'll Ever Need

Last Updated Jun 4, 2011 1:05 PM EDT

If effective business networking is so important, why do so few people see any benefits?

The problem starts with expectations.
Most people approach networking as a key driver of sales. ("Networking is like advertising... but networking is free!")

While networking can occasionally lead to a sale, when selling is your primary intent you fail because potential clients instantly realize your attempts to "network" are just a poorly-veiled sales tactic.

But networking can work if you take the right approach. Let's start by defining what networking really is (I promise it won't be boring).

The Four Basic Principles of Business Networking:

#1: Networking Always Starts With Giving
The ultimate goal of networking is to connect with people who may be able to help you: A direct sale, a referral, a contact, an endorsement, a job interview... something tangible that helps you reach a particular goal. It goes without saying that when you network you want something.

But you can't ask for what you want -- at least not at first, and maybe not ever. Forget about receiving and focus on providing. Your ultimate goal may be to receive, but your short- and medium-term focus must be on giving. That's the only way to establish a real connection and relationship.

Focus only on what you want and you will never make a valuable connection.

#2: No One Cares What You Need or How Badly You Need It

A joint venture with a major player in your industry could transform your company. A writeup in the New York Times could generate the publicity you need to drive significant sales. An endorsement from Guy Kawasaki on his blog might kick-start your consulting business. Or maybe your startup will soon run out of cash without a desperately-needed infusion of capital.

All great reasons for you to connect with people, but no one cares. Nor should they. Your needs are your problem.

Never expect people to respond to networking efforts based on your needs. Everyone has needs. Others may feel your pain but it is in no way their responsibility to help you. People care first about how you can help them. Embrace that premise and you'll go far.

Plus, keep in mind networking is a little like dating. The more desperate or needy you are the less likely you are to connect with someone worthwhile.

#3: Networking is Highly Targeted -- Just Like Sales
Some people like networking events. I don't; they're too unfocused. A much better approach is to identify someone you can help, determine whether they might be able to help you, and then approach them on your own terms.

Always select your targets. Then go after them. Don't expect to find them at a networking event.

#4: The Higher You Reach the Less You Should Expect
Say you're trying to network with Guy Kawasaki or Seth Godin or Malcolm Gladwell.

Great -- get in a very long line. Half the world is actively trying to network with them while the other half is still looking for their contact information so they can try as well.

Effective business networking creates a mutually beneficial relationship, with major emphasis on "mutually."

Say you're a writer or "thought leader" (whatever that is):

  • What can Malcolm Gladwell offer you? Plenty: Contacts, endorsements, advice, mentoring, etc.
  • What can you offer Malcolm? Nothing. Be realistic. You may believe you have something to offer, but you really don't. (Don't feel bad, I don't either.)
You may desperately want to connect, but making a worthwhile connection with your dream networking target will take a very long time. The right to connect is not based on need. You must earn the right to connect. Always keep that in mind.

Now that we're clear on what we mean by networking, I'm going to give you the basic steps on how to do it; follow them and the time you spend networking will actually pay off:

Step 1: Segment your networking "targets"
Step 2: Identify the best approach to each target
Step 3: Determine what you should provide
Step 4: Decide how much time you can afford to spend on networking
CLICK to learn how to segment your networking targets >>

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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.