Since I was a small child, I was told I should network. My dad constantly got into my head with “it’s who you know, not what you know”. This stuck with me, but completely felt like an oxymoron because I never saw my parents network, NEVER.
In high school I watched my dad travel for work, and he did it often. He didn’t pack a business suit and tie. Instead, he always packed his fishing gear. At the time, I never understood. Why does he get to go away for “business” and all he is ever doing is having fun (not that I thought fishing was fun, but I knew it was for him)? Much later it dawned on me he wasn’t fishing for fun, he was fishing to create lasting relationships with people that he cared for and trusted. So much so, we often would get invited back as a family to these small towns to visit, whether it be for the lighted Christmas parade in Garnett, KS or to see all the Dala Horses in Lindsborg, KS.
Whether he knew it or not, my dad taught me a valuable life lesson. Sure you can go to “networking” events, meet people, shake hands and exchange business cards. This occasionally will lead to a sale, but generally not. The only way that card will ever do you any good, is if you genuinely KNOW the person who gave it to you.
Let’s think about this way; you have a friend who had a pipe burst in their kitchen. They frantically post on Facebook asking for plumber recommendations. You aren’t going to look up a plumber in the phone book (god forbid), or Google it, you are going to recommend someone you have worked with before, has been in your own home and you trust with all your belongings at an arms reach. Sure, occasionally someone might thumb through a stack of coupons to find the cheapest guy out there, but more than likely, that isn’t the person that comes through for them or you.
So next time you go out to “network”, meet some interesting people you get along with. If they aren’t fit to walk in your home and dine with your family, you probably are never going to do business with them. Take their card, bring it home and do a little research on them. Some people call this stalking; I call it, being educated. If you still feel like it is worth the time, call them, email them or connect with them on LinkedIn. Invite them for coffee, lunch or for the brave of heart, over for dinner. Call them by their first name; get to know their story, why they do what they do and exactly what makes them tick.
It doesn’t just stop with one cup of coffee. To make it work, they have to become apart of your life in some capacity. This doesn’t mean starting over or forgetting the past. This just means putting a new frame of reference around your business and connections. I once told my boss, “so 10 years from now, if I need a job, you will back me up, right?” He laughed, “funny you should say that, someone just called me yesterday asking for a recommendation after 8 years of no communication”. This boss, to remain nameless, taught me a lot of what it is to know people. He is probably one of the most interconnected people in Kansas City. I wouldn’t be shocked if many of you know and trust him yourself. He is pretty great at making everyone feel as though you are amazing friends, now and for life. Just like that best friend from grade school, the one you call ever 15 years, but when you talk, it feels like it was only yesterday.
Next time someone asks for a recommendation, you will have friends to recommend, the kind that always have your back.
I recommend getting to know people, forget the networking.
Next week, I am going to uncover a few people I have “networked” with, literally met once, took their card and it landed in my business card fishbowl. Let’s rediscover some people together. Who should you reconnect with?
How do you like to network? What has worked for you and your business? Comment below.