Over the past several months, I have attended dozens of networking events and what strikes me most is the lack of real understanding of how effective networking works. Many businesses think networking is just meeting people. Networking is much more than just meeting people and exchanging business cards! A properly constructed networking plan can lead to phenomenal business success. Yet, too many businesses never give much thought to making the most of networking as a marketing strategy. An effective metaphor for understanding how to develop your networking strategy is based on the concept of networking currency.
To understand the concept of networking currency, we must first recognize that networking individuals fall into 3 groups:
- Givers – These are individuals that have no agenda and simple enjoy communicating with you and their network for pure altruistic reasons, never expecting anything in return.
- Takers – These are individuals that only reach out to you or their network when they need something. After they get what they want, they rarely maintain any level of contact until the next time they want something from you.
- Investors – These are individuals that know that their network contacts are their most valuable asset and continue to nurture these relationships and occasionally leverage (not use) these associations for quantifiable returns.
Just like any investor, networking investors know they have to make periodic deposits into their networking accounts before they earn the right to make a withdrawal by asking for a favor. Networking investors understand that they have “to give” to be able “to get” and build a sort of bank account using networking currency.
Essentially, networking account deposits can come in three currency forms:
- Time – Network investors can make a deposit by investing their time. For instance, network investors are investing their time when they help network contacts by meeting over lunch to allow the contact to vent about a business issue or by helping the contact move to a new office.
- Knowledge – Network investors can make a deposit by leveraging their skills and knowledge to help a contact understand how to make the most of a tool or agreeing to sit on their board of directors.
- Influential Relationships – Network investors can make a deposit by going out of their way to make personal introductions between two network contacts that will be beneficial to both parties.
Effective networkers know they need to make frequent networking account deposits in a relationship in order to earn the right to ask for a favor when they might need it.
Consider joining non-profit boards, speaking in public when you have the chance, or volunteering at local clubs, events, and even fundraisers. These kinds of activities will not only widen your network, but will also allow you to make networking currency deposits that can be helpful later. Whether your networking relationship is personal, functional, or strategic, assess what is important to each contact and start making appropriate networking currency deposits today before you need to reach out and ask for a favor.
In the end, you too can amass a portfolio full of networking assets and become the Warren Buffet of networking.
How do you handle networking events? Are you a network investor?
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