"I spend a lot of time networking, but I don't see many results from it." I hear this complaint frequently from independent professionals who are hoping that their networking activities will produce clients. It used to be that my clients and students would complain about unproductive networking in the form of attending mixers or scheduling coffee meetings. But now I often hear them voice the same dissatisfaction with social networking online.
At the same time, many experienced, successful professionals claim that networking is one of the primary ways they continually build their business. When you see successful people continue to network -- online and off -- you have to figure that they must get some value from it, or why keep doing it?
If I had to name one factor that I think makes the most difference between productive and unproductive networking, it would be the "chatter quotient." People who are good at networking and produce results from it don't just "chat" with their contacts. They have meaningful, relevant, focused exchanges. But people who network without much to show for it seem to spend a lot more time just chatting -- in person, by phone, and online.
Chatting has its place in social interaction. Small talk about the weather, the traffic, or the local team's last game can be a safe way to begin a conversation. Asking about your contacts' family, hobby, or last vacation lets them know you remember them and shows your interest. But conversations that consist of nothing but this type of chat are unlikely to produce many clients.
Networking online follows the same pattern. If your social networking posts are limited to what movie you last saw, the new car you're considering, and how you spent your Sunday afternoon, clients are not likely to result. Occasional posts about your personal life, just like small talk, have their place in letting people get to know you. But you've got to get beyond chatting to get business.
Productive networking consists of meaningful, relevant, focused conversations and online exchanges. Here are a few examples of what this sounds like.
Questions to ask others:
* Tell me about your work/current goals/challenges you're facing.
* Who/what would be a good client/helpful resource for you?
* What is exciting you in your business/career/life right now?
* What can I do to help you?
Topics to discuss about your own work:
* This is how I help my clients.
* Here's an example of someone I was able to assist.
* This is who would be a good client for me.
* Here's how you will know when someone needs my help.
Topics to post about online:
* Here's a useful resource for you.
* This is something I'm doing you might find valuable.
* Here's a success one of my clients had.
* I need some assistance -- can anyone help?
What topics like these allow you to do is demonstrate your expertise, showcase yourself as a competent professional, and let people know what you need so they can help. By asking others about their work and needs, you learn where you might fit in, and how to build an element of reciprocity with your networking contacts.
Before beginning any networking activity or conversation, pause for a moment and ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. Would you like to meet potential clients at that mixer? If so, what do you need to ask to know if someone might be a client? Do you want to get referrals as a result of that coffee date? Then what does that person need to learn about you in order to refer appropriately?
When you're networking online, what is the image you're trying to project? If you want people to perceive you as competent, or savvy, or reliable, what could you post about that would reinforce those perceptions? What topics might allow potential clients or referral sources to learn more about how your work can benefit them or someone they know?
If you're ready to make use of networking as the powerful tool it can be to meaningfully connect with others and build your business, it's time to get beyond the chatter.
Copyright © 2009, C.J. Hayden
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