Networking That Works (And Networking That Doesn’t)

What do you think of when you think of the word ‘networking?’ If you’re like most people, what comes to mind is a room full of strangers with their business cards in hand, trying to sell you on what they can do for you. The sort of place where you’re likely to hear one 90-second elevator speech after another, but have very few real conversations.

Lynda-Ross Vega

Lynda-Ross Vega

If you’re like most people, you don’t really enjoy functions like this. But all the experts talk about the importance of networking, and stress how it’s the key to building your business in this day and age. So off you go to diligently suffer through the entrepreneurial equivalent of “speed dating.”

Perhaps these sorts of functions really do produce results for some people. (And hey, maybe speed-dating works for them too.) But for me, it was about how to network, as effectively as possible, and I found the connections I’ve made that proved crucial to the growth of my business have rarely occurred in such settings. They’ve come, rather, as a consequence of authentic connections.

Here’s a story, by way of example: After 12 years of working with corporate clients, my business partner Gary and I decided we wanted to change our focus and try our hand at Internet marketing.  We signed up for some classes, purchased some home-study kits, and spent some serious money attending seminars led by “the experts” to learn how to network.

The message was always the same – get visible, get a blog, get a website, create a newsletter, use keywords, find joint ventures, and oh yes, network. Gary and I spent a lot of time and money getting all of the pieces in place.  And then we waited and waited and waited. So much for “build it and they will come”! Frustration set in, as did self-doubt. Was our product really as good as we thought?

An authentic connection was what had launched this business to begin with, when a former contact from my years in corporate America offered to connect me with a client who needed our help. Here again, as we were branching out into a new field, an authentic connection made the difference.

After monitoring our paltry website statistics for a few months, I thought of a woman I had met at a conference the previous year. She was vivacious, full of life, and specialized in copywriting. She and I had enjoyed talking about all sorts of things, most of them having to do with dogs, travel and branding. (Which is to say, our conversation had very little about what either of us actually did for a living.) I called her to see if she would be interested in helping us figure out how to make our web presence successful – maybe point me in the right direction.

Not only was she interested, she was enthusiastic!  She loved what our business was about, and she turned out to be a wealth of online marketing expertise as well as an incredibly talented copywriter.   Our websites began to sparkle with her help.

She and I developed a great business relationship and a wonderful friendship as well – all due to an authentic connection. On occasion over the years, she has thought of me when interacting with other entrepreneurs in her circle of friends and put me in touch with them. More connections have evolved for me and more opportunities have presented themselves. As a result, I have been a featured speaker at two events; have a few more engagements in the works and a couple of joint ventures on the drawing boards – all because of authentic connection.

The upshot? Networking is powerful, and it does work. But rarely does it do so when all you or anyone else is trying to do is sell yourself. To create authentic connections, you have to find a small piece of common ground and then give something of yourself. That’s how to network. That’s where the real magic begins.

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