Although networking has both a social and business component, most people focus on networking as a paradigm for business. The purpose of networking is the establishment of proactive, reciprocal and charitable long-term relationships with other businesspeople based on mutual trust and generosity.
Unfortunately, many people treat business networking as just another sales call. If the person they are reaching out to isn’t interested in buying, then they aren’t interested in connecting.
This is a truly short-sighted perspective. Those who think of their network as purely made up of potential buyers are missing the true value of what a network is. Why? The simple reason is that a building up a solid network is a like having your very own diamond mine. It’s full of incredible value if you bother to look for it. Yes, finding the “diamonds” amidst the rocks and silt takes time and effort, but once you find them (and, to extend the metaphor somewhat, polish them up through careful nurturing of your relationships with them), they provide immeasurable value.
Let’s explore the purpose of a business network in a little more depth.
What is the main purpose of a network?
The true purpose of networking is not to find new clients, but to find people who are willing to reach out to their own networks and put you in contact with people they know who can help you. Obviously, this effort of the part of your network connections comes as the result of the principle of reciprocity. If you have demonstrated your willingness to help them not once, but repeatedly, then they will be only too happy to help you.
For those looking to increase sales, yes, the people you network with might be able to put you in contact with potential clients. But it goes so much further than that. Perhaps someone in your network can connect you with a reporter or advertising executive who can help tell the world what you have to offer. Perhaps they have a dynamic mentor or coach in their network who can help you supercharge your business. They may even know an angel investor or venture capital fund big wig who may be interested in investing in your business. You won’t know precisely what value your network holds until you build your network, using generosity and reciprocity as your foundation.
More than the business connections, networking engenders friendships. As you build and nurture your relationships over time, you will discover that some members of your network have similar interests or backgrounds to you or have the same alma mater or hometown. This will open up a new facet to your relationship and allow you to connect on a second, more personal level. Common interests are a foundation for long-lasting friendships and as you continue to nurture these more intimate connections, you will find that your willingness to help them will increase exponentially, and vice-versa.
What are the benefits of networking?
Networking has a number of important benefits, the most important to your business – and yourself – being;
- Opening doors – This is a no-brainer and the primary motivator for network building. Your network will open doors for you. It will allow you to access resources that you would otherwise not have been given the opportunity to take advantage of. This might include being introduced to someone who offers to let you in on a lucrative deal, or someone who is interested in investing in your business. It may include finding someone who can grease the regulatory wheels to make certification more likely or procedural hurdles far easier to overcome or finding that perfect employee.
- Getting feedback – Your network is a great place to get feedback for plans and ideas that you have. Obviously, you should only ask for advice once you have done your part in building strong relationships with these people, but their opinions can be invaluable. After all, they will be far more honest than anyone close to you such as a friend or family members, since they are not so close to you that they fear upsetting you. And as fellow businesspeople, they will appreciate that giving honest feedback, even if it hurts your feelings, is far better for you and your business in the long run.
- Having someone to talk to – Building a network allows you to connect with people regularly, something that can help take the loneliness out of your day-to-day grind. This is especially true if you are a solopreneur or you run a small business with a few staff members with whom you don’t want to discuss the struggles and problems facing the business. Even if you have business partners, it’s nice to chat to others outside your business once-in-a-while to get a fresh perspective and to be able to vent a little.
- Finding people – Your network can be a great place to source higher caliber employees, consultants and advisors than would otherwise be possible. The person doing the recommending will be hesitant to propose anyone that might let you down for fear of their own reputation being sullied and so you can be pretty much certain that they will recommend high caliber candidates.
- Networking can offer a host of other benefits, as listed in this article as well as here, to help you personally, but more importantly, professionally.
At the end of the day, we are social animals and our network is like our “tribe”; a group of people that we know and who have our best interests at heart. In this sense, its purpose is as a protective measure to help mitigate problems that we may face as we navigate the treacherous waters of commerce and the inconsistencies of life. Knowing the right people that can help you solve your problems can significantly lighten your burden and make your voyage smooth sailing.
What are the advantages of networking?
The simple fact is that people will network with someone they are familiar with and trust. Building a network implies trust between you, your connections and their connections in turn. A person introducing two people in their network in the hopes that the latter will be able to help one another offers an unspoken assurance that each of the “connectees” (the people being introduced to one another) are trustworthy in their own right. The fact that the mutual connection is making the introduction presupposes this. Both of the connectees can move past their need to vet one another – beyond perhaps a superficial level – and get on with investigating whether or not each will be a good fit for the other’s network.
Networking for business comes down to trust
Trust is the cornerstone of business and it’s no surprise that building a network is nothing more elaborate than building trust between yourself and each of your network connections. However, the trust established between network connections who have established a proactive, reciprocal and charitable long-term relationship goes far beyond the level of trust usually demonstrated in everyday business. The trust in each of your network connections is the source from which incredible success can flow if honored and enhanced as part of the relationship-building process.
David P. Helfland, as quoted in this article, states that the purpose of networking is “… the exchange of information, advice, and referrals …” between people for their mutual benefit. A well-built and properly managed network bestows upon its members’ considerable benefits and advantages that will flourish over time and help ensure the success of those who put the work into building their network relationships. And yet, underpinning every solid network connection in every network is a simple concept; that of trust.