Crash Course in Business, part VII

Sep 1, 2007
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After another hiatus I decided to come back and write another of these threads and talk specifically about something I've been getting up to a lot of lately: networking.

For those unfamiliar, networking in a business context refers to the practice of actually getting out there and building professional relationships with people for the sake of expanding one another's businesses. No, social networking has little to do with it. There are lots of different networking events and organizations you can go to, some better than others. But there are some pitfalls that you want to avoid at all costs.

Let me get the first big thing out of the way first. You do not go to a networking event to sell yourself. You don't do this for the same reason you don't buy a dog then bark at the neighbors yourself: it defeats the purpose. You are there to build connections and relationships. I cannot tell you how many networking events and groups I've gone to where people just pass out business cards with fake smiles and never follow up. It shows that these people really have no clue what they're doing.

At an event I went to in January, I met a lot of people who just plain didn't get it. One woman was clearly only there because her boss told her to network more. Her body language was extremely closed off, she made little effort to talk to people and she put no effort into maintaining a conversation. Another guy was only there to convince everyone to join his multi-level marketing scam-er-I mean venture. Yet another was passing out business cards loaded with incomprehensible jargon. Yes, I did make some good connections there, but the point is that a lot of people just plain don't get it. You don't want to be one of them.

Another thing to remember about networking is that you're not going to get results right away. Networking is a very inefficient method of growing your business, it is however very effective. Efficiency is concerned only with economy of time and effort. Do as little as possible in as short a time as possible in order to meet the target results. Remember the Bobs from Office Space? The movie was a satire, but that is a pretty accurate reflection of how efficiency experts work. Effectiveness on the other hand is less concerned with time and more with maximizing results. Even if you have to take the slow road, an effective person will get the best end result.

What this means is that if you're starving, you need a direct mail campaign. But if you have more time, invest in networking because it's going to get you great business and better connections. Most businesses will mix the two. The direct mail campaigns get you the short-term business that keeps you chugging along while the results gained from networking are what grows the business.

Bear in mind that networking does require a commitment on your part. If I want to get a hold of somebody, I don't do it halfway. I have several contacts I'm juggling right now who didn't respond to my emails, so now I call 5 days a week, leaving polite voicemails on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The basic philosophy is that they said they would like to sit down with me over tea/coffee and talk shop, that I have permission to call, and I'm holding them to that. Most people are extremely bad at following up, so you can't afford to be. Once they give you permission to call them, that's it. They should not be able to get rid of you until they uphold their end of the whole spiel.

Another detail to keep in mind regarding networking is that it's going to lead to some unusual opportunities. Venues or clients you would never have thought of may be opened up to you. Events you previously would never have considered may be amenable to your act. Not all of them will be a good fit, but if you want to be successful you sometimes have to take a chance on it. Wedding receptions, corporate parties, podcasts, radio and TV appearances, classes for kids, the list goes on. The opportunities can get even more unusual depending on any unique assets or skills you possess. I know of a gentleman who, though not a magician, is an ordained ULC minister and costumed pirate performer and makes a fair amount of money officiating pirate-themed weddings. Apparently that's a thing. However it is a niche and he's got a virtual monopoly on it in the Northeast so if you find an opportunity to similarly dominate an unusual niche, go for it.

If you're not sure where to start looking for networking events, try Meetup dot com. I used to be an advocate of BNI, but not so much anymore as chapter chemistry for entertainment workers is an issue and you're likely to get a lot of people who just want to take, take, take. Remember that networking is a two-way street. It's not just about what they can do for you, but also what you can do for them. Imagine me saying that with a Boston accent for added effect.

To sum up, networking is a very powerful marketing tool. It requires a large investment of time on your part, the payoff will not be immediate and you have to be able to juggle follow-up effectively but the results are impossible to argue with. If you want to learn more about how to do this, I recommend you look into the books "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Ferrazzi and "How to Talk to Anyone" by Leil Lowndes.
 
Jan 26, 2014
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Very good post, I am working in an industry that is very heavy on the concept "it's about who you know".

On a side note, I book I would recommend is the Game by Neil Strauss, it's a little different then networking in a professional manner but it definitely will aid you in breaking out of that shell.
 
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