This FAQ is intended to answer the most common questions people have on the basics involved in personal networking. It's not a networking course. We have found that it is easier for people to focus on the more important aspects of a new situation, skill, or opportunity if they can get the most common and easily answered questions out of the way quickly.
For a similar set of questions and answers on networking groups, see the Networking Groups FAQ.
The following questions are answered in this FAQ:
1. What exactly is networking?
While this information will be applied to business, networking is a practice that can cover a lot of ground. In its simplest form, networking simply means making connections to make exchanges easier. This can be social, personal, professional, or even technical.
In the professional setting, networking is getting to know people and businesses, and developing trust and communication to make the process of business easier and more profitable. This usually involves the exchange of "leads", or referrals to potential customers, between businesses.
This can be by formal agreement, as happens in a networking group, or through the development of personal contacts over the course of time. The advantages either way are tremendous for a skilled networker. (See the file on advantages for a better explanation of all that networking can do for you.)
The most fundamental act of networking occurs when you give someone a referral or get a referral from someone based on the relationship of trust that has been built between the two of you. That connection is a simple network. And that is, in the end, all that is involved in even the most sophisticated networks. People exchanging connections, or leads, based on trust.
As you learn to expand your network of associates, you will find this happening more and more often, until you finally have more business than you can handle. At that point, the real benefits of networking become obvious.
A. Where's it done?
Networking can be done anywhere that two or more people get together. It is important to be aware of what is appropriate in the setting. Sometimes a direct approach is appropriate, others it is more acceptable to simply ask a person what they do and ask them for a business card "in case I run into anyone who could use your services." (For more on how to handle this part of the process, see the article "10 Effective Ice Breaking Questions") available by sending any email to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org .
B. When's it done?
Any time you run into someone you could help out with a referral that you also feel would do a good job for your associates. Remember, there are three sides to every referral. Your side, as the person who is being trusted by both to arrange a good match. The customer's side, since they are trusting you to get them someone to handle a problem for them *the right way the first time*. And of course the other businessperson's side, since they are expecting that this customer will pay on time and not create more problems than the job is worth.
Whenever you can make a good referral, find out about another person's business and ways you can help them, appropriately let another person know about your business, or simply make a new contact that could be a business acquaintance and/or friend, that's when you network. (For more on the appropriate ways to do this, see the articles on How To Network).
C. Who does it?
Everyone networks. If you have ever recommended a business based on the quality of their work, a restaurant, a movie, or even a gas station, you have networked.
Systematic networking is another thing. Anyone who is serious about using all their potential in developing their business will do it. It isn't at all a matter of the profession, but rather a matter of the *person*.
If you take pride in doing quality work or providing a quality product, if your recommendation is something that has to be earned, and if you are willing to give as well as get, you can network successfully!
2. Oh ... like schmoozing!
In a way. There is a big difference though. Networking in the sense that we use the word here is a deliberate, planned process. It involves the open exchange of leads and introductions. It is a completely honest process. "Schmoozing" carries the connotation of making the business end of things appear to be secondary, even when it isn't.
3. Hey! Is this anything like AmWay?
Nothing at all. Networking is the basis for the idea of network marketing, but the two part ways at that point. Network marketing involves a lot of pressure in most cases to get people involved for the long term. The representative is making money directly on the performance of those they recruit. Body count is all that matters in many such cases.
Networking is simply making the connections to ensure quality business between acquaintances. Once you have made the introduction or passed on the lead, you're done. The only pressure on anyone is to make good referrals and to do good work. Pressure we should all put on ourselves anyway.
4. Can this help me find a new job?
If you are looking for a new job and you have a reputation for quality performance, yes it can. The principal purpose of networking for most people is to get new business, but these principles apply to finding work as well. In fact, they can be used to get pretty much anything you want out of life. If someone else has it or can get it, or even IS it, networking can help you to find that person and get what you want.
5. I already know a lot of people. Why network?
Knowing people is a start. Networking allows you to build on that. It lets you profit from doing more work, and it enables you to help other people who do quality work to profit also. Even if you have more work from referrals than you can handle, there are some very good reasons to network. It can help you to build greater long term stability, enhance your reputation and help others in the process. For more reasons that you would benefit from networking, see the file on Advantages.
6. I don't know many people. How can I network?
Start introducing yourself to people. Make it a point to meet new people whenever possible. Ask the people you know who *they* know. Everyone starts somewhere. Again, there is a lot of good information to be found in the Basics of Networking primer.
7. Does this involve taking advantage of people?
Not if you're in it for the long term. Networking is most effective when you have a reputation for integrity. People will then feel more comfortable giving you referrals,and accepting your recommendations as being good ones. Both are necessary for good long-term relationships, which are the esence of real networking.
8. I'm new in business. What can this do for me?
Provided you do solid work, it can be the fastest way to get your business off the ground. If you have a track record, letting people who know your quality of work know that you're in business is a great way to get started. People always want to help the new business get jumpstarted, if they also know it won't hurt their reputation to make the referral. And networking groups can be especially good in this case. Again, assuming you do quality work.
9. I have a pretty common service. Will this do me any good?
More than you would think. The majority of successful small businesses get their business through referrals when they start out. If a person goes to the phone book to find a good service and finds dozens in the field, they are more likely to make their decision based on a recommendation than a Yellow Pages listing or a classified ad. Wouldn't you?
10. I have a pretty specialised customer base. Will this do me any good?
Absolutely. It becomes a chance to become better known, and to pick up the business that you might not have known about otherwise. It also will, in many cases, get people thinking about your service who would otherwise not have known it existed. Short of surgeons, there are very few businesses that couldn't benefit from better public awareness.
11. Won't good advertising do just as much for me?
Advertising is necessary for filling gaps in business, and is definitely a good boost when done right. It isn't where most business is generated, however. Most business comes from referrals, good old fashioned word of mouth.
Also, when dealing with a referral from someone you trust, there is less chance of the work going unpaid. This reduces the cost of bad debts and thus increases profitability. Consider:
Would *you* recommend someone to a trusted friend or business acquaintance whom you knew would not pay when the job was done?
12. How do I know I'll get any referrals after I start sending them to other people?
If that happens, the first thing to do is ask them why. It is entirely possible that they didn't understand that it was to be a reciprocal agreement. Better to ask than to end a relationship because of a misunderstanding.
It is very rare for someone to not return referrals when they can. There is too much to lose, and the referral is free. If you find that someone is doing this, simply stop giving them referrals. If they behave this way to someone who is sending them work, how much assurance do you really have that they won't behave the same way to the person they are doing the work for?
In the long run, you will be so much farther ahead that the few who would behave this way will not even be worth considering. This is another reason, though, that a strong emphasis is put on only dealing with businesses that have demonstrated integrity. They give as good as they get.
13. What professions get the most from networking?
Again, it is more a question of the person than the profession in most cases. There are certain businesses that do extremely well, because of the wide need for their services and the number of people they deal with on a regular basis.
Bankers, insurance agents and others in financial fields, real estate agents, car salesman, and doctors do very well. Anyone that sees a lot of people and makes a fair amount from one contact will do well from networking. The businesses that get repeat or long term business are the real winners though.
They don't need to get a lot of customers to succeed. Just a few extra a month can make the difference between having more work than you can do and having no work at all.
14. I have more business than I can handle now. What good will it do me?
Proper networking helps to ensure that you continue to enjoy the full schedule, and also helps to make sure that you find more lucrative clients. If you give more leads than you receive, you will often find people offering you discounts and special information that might not generally be available to you. See the file on Advantages for more on this.
15. What kind of business increase are we talking about?
That depends, of course, on how busy you are now, how seriously you take the networking process, and how many clients you can properly take care of. In the end, this factor is up to you. It is not at all unusual for people who network well to have to add staff to handle the additional work load.
ProfNet is a professional networking group with over 30 chapters throughout the US and expanding to international markets.
For information on a ProfNet chapter near you, or starting one of your own, contact Nancy by emailing her for more details.