I was never taught how to network. In fact, the concept was completely alien to me until I began my physician coaching business. Back in 1988, when I joined my medical practice, word was "to grow your practice, you should get to know the other docs by hanging out in the doctor's lounge at the two hospitals that you belong to". So, despite not being much of a coffee drinker, I'd go to the doctors' lounges early in the morning or at lunch and force myself to sit with people and strike up a conversation. Some days it felt awkward or even painful!
I didn't know it but I was engaging in "business networking".
Fast forward to 2002 when I was getting my coaching business going, I recognized how clueless I was about getting clients. I was overwhelmed by the thought of talking about my business. I attended a few Chamber of Commerce events as well as some of the local networking groups and was underwhelmed by the results. I couldn't stop dreading every occasion I was forcing myself to attend.
However, slowly, I began to get it!
My clients weren't signing up from those artificial situations. They were coming from interactions when I wasn't even aware that I was networking. I was merely being curious and interested in people I was meeting, and doing a lot of listening. I was also inadvertently being of value when spontaneously volunteering to send a copy of an article, hook someone up with a resource or taking time to teach someone on a topic that I was interested in. I sat over many a lunch hour teaching acquaintances about some of the Internet stuff I was learning all some of the productivity tools I was using. Simply because these materials fascinated me as well!
I was actually giving value without expecting anything in return (okay, maybe I was hoping for a “thanks”!)
How does this kind of business networking work?
According to "Girard’s Law of 250” (so named for one of the world's greatest salesman, Joe Girard), about the maximum size of people we can comfortably handle knowing and interacting with regularly is 250. Is this circle of friends and acquaintances big enough to help us land our next job, grow a medical practice, or sell our new widget to? Probably not.
We need to look for leverage.
Leverage comes simply from the fact that for every one person you develop a relationship with, you expand your own circle of influence by another 250 people. Get to know 8 or 10 people well, and get comfortable enough with them to eventually request introductions, and suddenly you have access to several thousands of people.
If you're able to get one person to "know, like and trust" you, you've opened the doorway to 250 others. One patient who becomes a raving fan can drive 10 or even 20 new patients to your practice. Likewise for any other service business you may be developing.
So let me boil this business networking stuff down to a few simple tips.
- Treat every hand you shake as the hand that will open the door to 250 more people
- Be yourself, don't be a fake
- Be useful
- Be friendly
- Be abundant – share, give, help, teach – unreservedly and without hesitation!
- Give more time than you think you can afford
- Become an “educational marketer" - be willing to teach and share your expertise.
If it’s time for a business networking refresher, you can read my series of a few years ago here (this page links to all 5 articles in my series).