Networking is the cultivating of positive, give-take relationships between two or more people that are beneficial to one another. In the past you had to set aside specific time with which you could network with a group of people, think Chamber of Commerce mixers, industry get-togethers, and conferences.
With the onset of web 2.0, a plethora of social networks and the desire to become more connected, networking can now be an everyday occurrence. One of the major draw backs with using social networks to connect and build mutually beneficial, win-win relationships is the fact that it's almost too easy. In other words people collect followers, likes, connections and friends as if they were baseball cards; what that really means is most people put very little value on those connections.
Having said that, it's not too difficult to stand out from the crowd if you follow my suggestions in this post. The following process has been adapted using Bob Burg's amazing book, Endless Referrals. Much like in his book, Endless Referrals, this post will push forth the idea of being a giver. By being a giver you will be able to create an endless stream of referrals through the law of reciprocity. One caveat though, do not be a giver with the intention of just getting. Be a giver because it's the right thing to do; even if the idea behind being a giver is to be seen as the type of person that deserves to receive referrals. In other words, be genuine.
Step 1: Finding The Right People To Connect With
While what I'll be covering in this post can be used on other social networks, with slight modification of course, I will be talking in terms of LinkedIn. If you don't have an account yet I highly recommend that you get one.
First, make sure that your profile is completely filled out, with no typos or grammatical errors. If you're like me, you may need somebody to edit it for you. Once your profile is filled out completely it's time to go searching for the right people. Also, keep in mind that you're about to go big so it's important that you've defined your personal brand.
When searching for people to connect with, look for and search out the centers of influence. These are the people that have a lot of connections, a lot of recommendations, give out a lot of recommendations, engage in groups and use LinkedIn fairly consistently.
When looking for people to connect with, try to find people that compliment what you do, people that would be a good referral source and work with the same clients that you work with. An example would be that if you were an automotive insurance agent you might want to connect with people that work at a car dealership, or if you're a cake decorator, it might be a good idea to connect with wedding planners.
Using LinkedIn's advanced search you can search by geographical area, group affiliations, job title, company, industries and even school. Once you have narrowed down the people you want to connect with make sure that you read their profile, some of their group posts and maybe even their website. With the internet you never have to go in "cold."
We're going to talk more about this in step 4 but it's also a good idea to connect with anybody that can benefit from receiving a referral themselves.
Step 2: Connecting With the Right People
First, and most importantly, it's important to note that you're not trying to collect a huge number of connections, but are instead looking to create mutually beneficial win-win relationships. Also keep in mind that LinkedIn doesn't like you to connect to just anybody, so it's important to have a reason for doing so. An idea would be to look for local groups, on LinkedIn, that you can join. Once you join the group, LinkedIn will allow you to chose which group you and the person you're trying to connect with have in common.
Another idea would be to join the group of the person you are trying to connect with, before you attempt to connect with them. Group affiliations are usually on their profile and will usually help to establish a sort of social proof. Just make sure that you comment or start a discussion in the group beforehand.
Stay Away From The Default
The default connect message on LinkedIn is:
"I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn."
Stay away from it. It doesn't set you apart from everybody else and it sure won't help to establish yourself as a person with whom the person you're trying to connect with wants to connect to. Instead use something like this:
"Hi Mark. My name is David Johnson, we're in the Cool People That live In Colorado Springs group together and I'd be honored to connect with you here on LinkedIn. Also, I really enjoyed your comment on connecting with your customers on Facebook, I will most definitely put that to use! Talk to you soon."
Again, the idea is to stand out from the crowd, to say something that requires thought, not just the click of the mouse. Of course this will take more work, but what's three minutes of your time compared to the obvious benefit of connecting with the movers and shakers? Also, not everybody will accept your request to connect, that's okay, but if you word your initial message correctly your chances skyrocket!
Once they have accepted your request, take another look at their profile and think of a few questions that you can ask them. Usually they will respond back if you worded your request correctly, in that case just reply to their message.
The questions you are going to ask, maybe just one or two, should be open ended and all about your new connection. Remember, you're a giver and your new connections favorite topic will always be themselves. Below are a few questions you can ask:
For more question idea grab a copy of Endless Referrals.
Warning: Don't just ask the questions above, give reason for asking them, say something like:
Mark, I'm a new business owner and would love some advice from somebody that has been there, somebody such as yourself, that I can no doubt learn from. What advice would you give to somebody just starting out, advice that you wish you'd have known when you first started?
Questions phrased like that will be answered, will hopefully start a conversation and will set you apart from everybody else. Remember to keep the conversation on them and their business, then ask the question that Bob Burg says will separate the pros from the amateurs:
How can I know if someone I'm speaking to is a good prospect for you?
This one question will set you apart from everybody else, I've used it religiously for years and have had really great success with it, it shows the person you are talking to that you trust them enough to send them your valuable referrals, they will want to reciprocate.
Now it's time to do something so far out there, so crazy that you will forever be etched into the mind of your new best friend. I want you to send them a note card. That's right, not an email but a note card and if your new connection is local they will more than likely get it the very next day.
Think about it, you met through a social network, which makes things very easy to communicate back and forth with, but instead you take the time to hand write a note, stamp it and place it in the mailbox. This will set you apart! Again, in Endless Referrals, Bob Burg gives this example of what to say on the note, with slight modification:
Hi Mark, thank you. It was a real pleasure chatting back and forth with you on LinkedIn. If I can ever refer business your way, I certainly will.
Step 3: Give, Give, Give
Now that you have connected, started a conversation and sent them a note, it's time to give! If you feel comfortable enough with your connection I want you to consider leaving them a recommendation on LinkedIn. One, this is giving and two, your new connection will be influenced to do the same for you.
Now, I know that you may or may not have done business with this person or their business before; in that case leave them a character recommendation. In other words say something about how helpful they were in answering your questions and how much you learned from them.
If done correctly the odds are very much in your favor that they will write you a recommendation as well.
While you're out and about, surfing the web you will no doubt come across an article or video that may be of interest to your connection, share it with them . Don't do this every day of course but by sharing things with your connections that will help them in their business they will come to see you as a valuable friend and will also help to keep you top of mind.
Step 4: Be A Connector
Over time you will, while growing the number of people you're connected to on LinkedIn, see opportunities to connect two or more of your connections. Do it. Do it as often as possible. This helps to establish yourself as a center of influence and goes back to you being a giver.
I like the idea of being able to refer somebody in my social graph for everything, whether it's a plumber or an electrician, a chiropractor or a mechanic. Which is why I recommend that you use what you have learned in this post with as many different industry as possible. That way if your best friend mentions that he is looking for somebody who can paint his house, you know somebody. If you hear of a person, while standing in line at a grocery store, looking for a mechanic you know somebody.
Be a connector. Give.
Step 5: Don't Be A Single Serving Friend
Don't be on one day then off for the rest of forever. Relationships take time. I'm not talking about talking to every one of your connections everyday but intermittently you should pop your head in and say hi, virtually of course. Comment on their threads in LinkedIn groups, or even on their status updates.
Always remember to add to the conversation, never take away from. Give, give, give.
Yes, what I've outlined in this post will take time. But it's well worth it. Put it this way, it's much better to be connected with 20 people that send you referrals, than 1000 people that don't even know you exist. Build quality connections. Ones that are mutually beneficial and win-win. Remember, success takes work, success takes time; in other words put in the time required to be successful, along with the things that need to be done and success will be yours!
I created a follow up to this post, also on SocialMediaToday.com, called LinkedIn: 5 Ways To Turn Your Casual Connections Into Financial Windfall.