I wrote the below article for the Bulldog Sollutions Marketing Watchdog Journal.
Beyond Business Cards and Boardrooms!
Business professionals often wonder if their networking efforts are really the worth time and money invested. They look to the hours they invest in attending corporate events, talking to people, following up with key individuals and cultivating all their relationships via their online social media tools—and then see an exorbitant amount of time necessary to create exceptional relationships with others in their business community. But beware: If you only focus on short-term payoff, networking may not seem to have the ROI "bang" that you dream about.
The fact is, networking goes beyond just meeting people and trading business cards.
Most business professionals instinctively know that people do business with those they know, like and trust—yet they are not confident that they can build the types of bonds that will lead to more business in the limited amount of time they have available. Thus many reject the whole concept of networking and fail to make it a priority in their overall corporate marketing structure.
Additionally many business networking activities take a commitment of dollars and time, both of which are limited for entrepreneurs and corporate managers. They see the number of items already on their to-do list and rationalize that networking is just fluff. Is it really worth it to make a priority of building a network of professionals?
It's Not Doorknobs, but People Who Can Help You Succeed
In order to understand the power of business relationships and networking, one first must admit that all opportunities come from people. It makes no difference what you have going for you in your life or business, the original opportunity existed because of a person. A person introduced you to your husband or wife, a person hired you for your dream job, and all of your clients and prospects are human beings. Nobody succeeds in a vacuum—and your doorknob cannot suggest an idea that takes your company to the next levels (unless you are a doorknob retail outlet).
It's a Give and Take. Mostly Give.
Beyond just admitting that people are important, you must also make them a priority. Too often people assume that those they meet networking will run back to their office and immediately begin making key introductions. They fantasize about how their new friends will bring opportunities and leads that will benefit them in their careers. They go home and wait. When the phone never rings, they sour on the whole idea. What a true networker should do is go back to the office and look for ways to facilitate important introductions for others. If you want other people to work with your best interests at heart, you must work for them first.
Are You the "Go-To" Guru?
Simply having the right connections, networking can also expose you and your company to early industry trends. When you are well connected, people will turn to you with ideas and information. Recognizing how to harness the information is key. You will learn what your competitors are doing, and this will help you better plan strategically. People will also seek out your advice, and you will be seen as the "go-to" in your community for all things surrounding your industry. The well-connected individual is often the sage.
San Diego State University marketing professor William Baker has conducted research on the benefits of networking. While it is hard to quantify, he found that those who network do realize more success. In an interview with Business Week columnist Karen Klein, he stated that networking has "a strong main effect on performance measures relating to innovation, most notably the ability of firms to develop new products." In other words, if your team is hiding in the office and not interacting with outsiders, they will likely miss an opportunity to apply a fresh, innovative perspective on products and services that could establish your company as the cutting-edge leader.
Simply Put, Networking Drives Success
Creating a networking culture in your organization that extends across a variety of industries will make your company more successful. Being known to others is worth the time investment. Using a variety of online and in-person venues to cultivate relationships with people is one of the smartest things that you can do to position your company. And when you support your employees' networking efforts, you create an atmosphere that lends itself to success: information, innovation, ideas and inspiration.
This is not about becoming the new "Paris Hilton" of your industry, but instead about combining visibility and credibility. You need both. Make sure that people inside and outside your organization understand your company, its products and its vision. Embrace the power of business relationships to help lead your business to greater success.
Have A Great Day.