About 30 years ago an organisation that today has more than 170,000 members worldwide was founded by Dr Ivan Misner.
It’s called Business Network International and last year some 6,000 meetings were held every week across the globe, generating 54 million referrals that led to members doing business worth $65 million with each other.
If that sounds forbidding, then it shouldn’t. Business is built on relationships of trust that develop as people get to know each other. Business people have always clubbed together, formally or informally, and generated work to their mutual benefit.
There are other networking organisations, but BNI is one I know well through attending regular breakfast meetings in central London that are over before office hours. They can be intellectually refreshing, because each group only has one member from each type of business, so giving you an insight into other trades. But they can also be financially rewarding as, over breakfast, people make one minute pitches for business.
It’s called referral marketing and there’s even a trademarked slogan for BNI’s approach, Givers Gain. It states simply: ‘If I give you business, you’ll want to give me business.’
Now, there are plenty of other organisations that fulfil a similar function. Some of them have golf club in the title. But whatever your chosen networking platform it’s worth having some ground rules by which you can judge the strength of the contacts you are making.
I mentioned in the last blog that I use introduction grading to gauge the potential of contacts made and referrals passed on when networking.
But I’ve also been impressed with the nine steps to better networking described by Nigel Davey of SME Needs.
I’ll summarise the nine steps here, but it’s well worth reading the full description at www.smeneeds.co.uk. They are:
- Where to go: target your networking by considering where your ideal client will be.
- Review the delegate list: who should you be talking to?
- Mostly people you don’t know: talking to people you already know maintains existing relationships, but doesn’t expand your network. This doesn’t apply to membership networking, such as BNI, though there’ll naturally be some turnover of members.
- Listen and ask questions: get to know what people do, how they help their clients and the people they are looking for. Take their business card in exchange for your own.
- Follow up: with a phone call and by connecting using social media.
- Help them trust you: earning trust takes time but you can start by using stories to explain how you help your clients. Don’t bombard people with sales pitches after the event.
- Maintain communication: ask if you can join their mailing list and add them to your own.
- Give when you can: you network to generate new clients for your business, but should take any opportunity to introduce contacts to a potential business opportunity. That’s ‘Givers Gain’ in practice.
- Look after their reputation: when you are given a referral, deliver on your promises and do a great job.
There are other sets of rules for networking. Here’s one I found by searching online for ‘nine rules networking’, for example. You’ll find what suits your business needs.
Happy networking. And if you want to know more about what I can do to help my clients, please do click here for more details.