“Excuse me, we’ve never met but would you mind giving me a list of all your friends and business contacts so that I might sell them my products and services?” Who would make such a foolish request? Yet, some of the things that are done in the name of networking are just about as foolish.

Networking is one of the most effective, and most widely used, means of promoting your business. It’s a process of connecting with others, to help build each other’s businesses through referrals. Ideally, it’s a win/win situation; and takes place through organizations, business and social settings, the internet and chance encounters. It’s a form of advertising and, like word of mouth, is generally inexpensive yet priceless. Poorly handled, though, networking becomes cheap and manipulative.

While I make no claim to being a networking expert, I do know what has worked for me. I also know what I’ve experienced that has turned me off. Unfortunately, they are some of the same clumsy approaches I’ve occasionally used.

Foremost in good networking is trust. Rarely does a fellow propose marriage on the first date. There needs to be some courting. This is not only a time for getting acquainted; it is also a time for establishing trust. In that respect, networking closely parallels courting. In business, it shows poor judgment (and taste) to try to “close a sale,” or to ask for a favor, when no trust has been established. To suddenly take an interest in someone, or to extend a social invitation for solely commercial purposes, is likewise tasteless. It’s much like the guy who says, “I didn’t want to marry her for her money, but that was the only way I could get it.”

Another vital aspect of networking involves recognition of objectives. How often have we been at networking events that went no where? Could it be that we focused too much on the wrong people (non decisions makers), the food or simply meaningless small talk? Without being manipulative, have a plan. Know who you wish to talk to and what you plan to say. Forget about the food. You can eat or you can network, but rarely can you do both. Keep your hands free to meet, greet and exchange business cards. Keep your mouth free to talk - in terms of the other person’s interest. Then, when given the opportunity, modestly state the benefits of what you do.

Closely related to what we just noticed, is simply a matter of always being prepared for networking. It makes no difference whether the occasion is a planned event or not. A good “networker” is always prepared. It’s amazing the number of people in business that do not have ready access to their business cards, even at networking events. Believe me, I’ve made my share of business mistakes. But, one of them is not that of lacking necessary materials, at all times, for those who are interested in what I do. When traveling, in my carry on luggage, I always have complimentary books and DVDs - just in case. Even my wife keeps my business cards with her – just in case. Networking opportunities are everywhere. But, we must be prepared.

And, we must be persistent. Don’t say, “I tried networking once, and it didn’t work.” We must stay at it. And, we must follow up. Look for ways to stay in contact with those you meet. The internet is a great tool for this, but there are other ways as well. Write notes, make phone calls, have lunch, play golf. However you might choose, the key is ongoing contact. Be a friend!

BARBER-OSOPHY: Success in business largely depends on being known and trusted.

© 2005 Sumerlin Enterprises.

Author's Bio: 

Terry L. Sumerlin, known as the Barber-osopher, is the author of "A HUMAN BECOMING - A Life Changing Voyage," and is a columnist for the San Antonio Business Journal. He speaks nationally as a humorist/motivational speaker. Visit his website at www.Barber-osophy.com.