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It seems like every time I turn around I am reading a blog, an article, or hearing someone talk about ‘networking’ and ‘making contacts’ to develop your business. Frankly, I have never felt comfortable with the words ‘networking’ or ‘contacts’ – they seem so impersonal.
It is not ‘networking’; it is building relationships
Do you remember Dicky Fox, the older man from the movie Jerry Maguire? I loved his no-nonsense philosophy on selling, business, and life. One of his quotations from the movie was simply: “The key to business is personal relationships.” So simple, yet so sage. I was raised with the perspective that is ‘all about people’ – and that remains to be true. What this means to me is that it is not about ‘making contacts’….what does that really mean anyway?!
It is about building relationships. It is not about collecting hundreds of cards and having empty conversations at the myriad of ‘networking’ events which proliferate our world today. It is about creating ‘win-win-win’ opportunities – you, the other person, and the mutual customer/client/market. ‘Networking’ is vapid, shallow, and insincere on a surface level. Period. Building relationships creates fertile ground for the seeds we mutually plant to grow. There is the huge difference.
Who or what does it serve?
The litmus test for sincere and genuine conversations – not to mention building solid relationships – is ‘who or what does this serve’? If the answer is ‘you and you alone’ – this will be a short-lived ‘relationship.’ What I know for sure is that as hard as it can be sometimes to continue to ‘give, give, give’ with little appearing to come back in return – it always comes back if the intentions are pure and sincere. As I build my business, I find myself introducing people to others that can be of mutual benefit, doing a lot of pro bono work, and referring individuals to jobs and potential opportunities in their fields of interest.
To be honest, sometimes I feel like this has become my ‘full time job’ and there are days where I wonder ‘what am I doing’?! Well, being in service to others and our clients is rich and fulfilling regardless of payment. And I do believe ‘paying it forward’ will create a flow of energy which ultimately will come back. It is not always easy when the recessionary pressures loom all around us. Yet, I know for sure that if we stay true to our purest convictions of offering and providing good service to our clients and meeting others with their benefit in the forefront of our minds – it will be rewarded.
Hundreds of self-help books have been written around the philosophy of ‘being present in the moment.’ It is indeed ‘where the juice is’ when building relationships and creating strong connections with others. When we meet others, nothing is more powerful than feeling like the person is totally, 100% focused on you. The person is intently listening to you – the spoken and unspoken words. This can only be authentically accomplished when we are present in the moment with that person.
I feel certain that we have all been in the situation at one of these networking functions where the person with whom you are visiting is casing the room with his/her eyes to see ‘who else is there’ and who their next ‘contact’ needs to be. When that happens I feel like chopped liver. And what a missed opportunity for them! I, for one, am not endeared to those individuals – and they fall into a ‘stack of cards’ of invisible folks I have met – not a new budding relationship.
Help me…help you!
Many of my clients know I love this famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire which Tom Cruise used with Cuba Gooding in the locker room. Tom was super frustrated with his client, and was basically begging him to ‘help me – help you.’ What a wise phrase as it pertains to relationships. Relationships are built on mutual support. As we meet others, having the perspective of helping them with their lives and businesses AND the additional perspective of making it easy for them to help us with our lives and businesses – can be a powerful combination. I have found that most folks actually do want to help and be in service to others.
One easy step to building strong relationships is to make it easy on others to help and support you (and vice-versa). Follow-up with new people you meet. Sincerely – not with some form letter or blanket email. (Yes – believe it or not – I have received boiler plate letters from individuals I have met at networking events….what are they thinking?) Create an easy to understand value proposition of what you offer, how you can be of service to them or others they know. Offer unsolicited information, URLs, books, articles and seminars which would be of benefit to them. Make relevant introductions – and share openly your circle of relationships to support them.
This last point is a true differentiator in building relationships. I have met many new people in the past few years as I build my company. It has been amazing to see the correlation between the wildly successful individuals and the marginally successful individuals. The wildly successful individuals are those that are generous with their time, business relationships, and knowledge. They are secure in their philosophy based on abundance not scarcity – and share openly. Those that hoard and come from a scarcity mentality create that reality for themselves. Supporting others as well as ‘helping them help you’ builds an undeniable flow of energy which benefits everyone.
So, did Jerry Maguire have it right? I think so, with one small exception. I don’t think you always ‘have someone at hello.’ Authentic business relationships require time, sincere interest, mutual benefit, and purity of intention. Through a simple change of perspective, one can turn the barrage of networking events, which are available to us, into a wonderful experience of being of service to others. It doesn’t get much better than that – and the rewards are multi-faceted.
Kristin Kaufman is founder of Alignment, Inc., formed in 2007 to help individuals, corporations, boards of directors and non-profits find alignment within themselves and their organizations. Before establishing Alignment, Inc. she worked for 25 years in corporate offices such as Hewlett-Packard, Vignette Corporation and United Health Group. For more details please visit her website.