The New Rules of Networking

*As seen in the March issue of NCACPA’s quarterly magazine, Interim Report.*

By: Meridith Elliott Powell

Networking, believe it or not, is one of the most important and effective tools you have for building your firm and keeping your clients. In today’s economy, networking is as important to your success as performing an audit or consulting with a new client. To achieve today, you have to get above the white noise, be visible, and make honest and true connections with both your prospects and your current clients.

Just like this economy has changed, so has how and why we network. You’ve heard the old networking sayings, “It is not what you know, it is who you know” or “It is not who you know, it is who knows you.” When it comes to networking today, “It is not who knows you, it is who is GLAD they know you.”

Networking used to be about getting out there, and getting to know as many people as you can. In today’s fast-paced and dynamic world, that goal has changed. The goal is to build trust, and you build trust through relationships, and you build relationships by networking.

I know the moment I say the word I can practically see your eyes roll and your resistance heat up. In fact, “networking” has to be one of the most dreaded words in the world of business. I think it ranks right up there with public speaking and the 360 review. Who in their right mind would want to network? Who would actually want to go into a room full of people they do not know—alone—and start making conversation?

Believe it or not, some people love to network. I am not qualified to assess whether they are sick, twisted, and confused, but I can tell you they are the lucky ones—the chosen few. Simply because they love to network and because they are willing to push out of their comfort zone, great things happen for them.

Research tells us that over the course of a lifetime—all things being equal—those who love to network (and make an effort to do it) will make more money, get more promotions, experience more lucky breaks, have more fun, and suffer from less stress. All because they are willing to push out of their comfort zones and take an interest in other people. Now that is what I would call a pretty strong return on investment!

So, if networking is so great for us, why do we dislike it so much at the same time? I believe we do not like to network because we were either not taught to, or were taught incorrectly.  Think about it—when in school or at home did someone ever sit you down and tell you the power of connecting with other people? Never, right? In fact, you were taught the opposite—not to talk to strangers.

If you were ever lucky enough to take a class on networking, some well-meaning business trainer told you he had the “secret” to how to network, and he proceeded to teach you “networking skills” that felt pushy and awkward. Techniques like repeating a person’s name three times, passing out business cards like a blackjack dealer, and—my personal favorite—the 30-second elevator speech. Uncomfortable, yes. Effective? Not so much.

There is a secret—something that regular networkers know—and that secret is networking, when it is done right, just comes naturally.  And when we network according to our natural instincts, networking is fun, easy, and effective.

Here are three key strategies to becoming a more natural (and effective) networker:

Step 1: Learn to Serve
Take the stress out of networking by approaching any event with the attitude of being there simply to serve others.  Enter any event or room with the mindset of giving rather than taking. To network naturally, we need to first build relationships and establish trust, and we do that when we first learn to serve. Networking is about investing in others before we even think about asking them to invest in us.

Step 2: Engage
People always tell me they don’t like to network because they do not know what to say or what to share about themselves. Well, I have good news for you—networking isn’t about you. To network naturally, you need to engage other people in conversations first and learn about them. People love to talk about themselves, and when we engage others and ask them questions, it not only takes the pressure off of what you need to say about yourself, but it puts the focus on other people. Putting the focus on them endears them to you and strikes a great impression. In addition, it allows you to find out more information on how you can develop the relationship, introduce them to others, or find a way to work together.

Step 3: Expand
First, congratulations! Just by doing the first two steps you have accomplished most of the legwork that goes into being a natural networker. So, this last step is just icing on the cake! To truly reap the rewards from your networking efforts, you need to expand your network. In other words, one networking event does not a relationship make. If you meet or connect with someone and you think there is potential there, take the next step. Do not wait on them to call for coffee, lunch, or to set up the meeting—beat them to the punch! Believe me, you have done the hard part—making the connection and pushing out of your comfort zone. With the introduction made and the relationship started, there’s no reason not to keep the ball rolling.


Meridith_Elliott_Powell_2011-01-17_20-34-18A motivational keynote speaker and business growth expert, Meridith Elliott Powell works with clients to help instill in them ownership at every level to ensure profits at every turn. She is the author of several books, and when not keynoting and leading workshops, Meridith can be found looking for inspiration cycling, golfing, or hiking her favorite trail. Visit www.meridithelliottpowell.com to learn more.