By Dr. Ivan Misner
Once you overcome these misconceptions, there will be nothing to stop you building a powerful network that provides continuous business and opportunities.
Think about the most successful people you know. What do they have in common? Probably this: They have built a network of contacts that provide support, information, and business referrals. They have mastered the art and science of networking, and business flows to them almost as a matter of course.
It has taken these successful networkers years of hard work and perseverance to build their networks. It will take a similar commitment for you, too. However, many people, before building networking prowess, need to overcome three major networking misconceptions.
1. “How do I network if I’m not a naturally outgoing person?”
Go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief–because you don’t have to become Mr. Public Speaker, Person About Town, to be a successful networker. Most business people, given a little real-world experience, naturally develop a certain level of comfort in dealing with customers, vendors, and others in their day-to-day transactions. Even people who are not gregarious or outgoing can form meaningful relationships and communicate.
Over years of teaching people the art of networking, I’ve found many techniques that can make the process a whole lot easier–especially for those who consider themselves a bit introverted. For example, volunteering to be an ambassador or visitor host for a local business networking event can be a great way to get involved without feeling out of place.
Think about it. When you have guests at your house or office, what do you do? You engage them, make them feel comfortable; perhaps you even offer them something to drink. What you don’t do is stand by yourself in the corner thinking about how you hate meeting new people.
By serving as a visitor host at your local chamber event, you effectively become the host of the party. Try it! You’ll find it much easier to meet and talk to new people.
2. “Getting business by person-to-person referral sounds like something that used to happen when my great-grandfather was selling horse-drawn buggies. Why should I waste my time on a marketing method that’s generations out of date?”
Yes, networking has been around a long time. It used to be the way that most businesses operated. In a small community, where everybody knows everybody, people do business with the people they trust, and they recommend these businesses to their friends. Small-town professionals naturally tend to refer business to each other, too–usually to those who return the favor, but often simply on the basis of whose service will reflect best on the referrer. If you’re a plumber and you refer a customer to a dentist you know, you don’t want that customer complaining to you a week later about what a lousy dentist you sent him to.
Today, most people do business on a larger scale, over a broader customer base and geographic area. More people now live in cities, and in even a small city most people are total strangers to one another. The personal connections of the old-style community, and the trust that went with them, is mostly gone. That’s why a system for generating referrals among a group of professionals who trust one another is so important these days, and it is why referral networking is not only the way of the past but the wave of the future. It’s a cost-effective strategy with a long-term payoff. It’s where business marketing is going, and it’s where you need to go if you’re going to stay in the game. As the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky said, “I don’t skate to where the puck is, but where it’s going to be.”
3. “Networking is not a hard science.”
I once suggested to the business dean of a large university that the business curriculum should include courses in networking. His response? “My professors would never teach that material here. It’s all soft science.”
I should not have been surprised, because I’ve run into this attitude many times at many business schools. But it shocked me to hear it at a progressive major university.
We give people bachelor’s degrees in marketing, business, and even entrepreneurship, but we teach them hardly anything about the one subject that virtually every entrepreneur says is critically important to his or her business–networking and social capital. Why don’t business schools teach this subject? I think it’s because most are made up of professors who’ve never owned a business. Almost everything they’ve learned about running a business they’ve learned from books and consulting.
Can you imagine a law course taught by someone who’s not an attorney, or an accounting course taught by anyone without direct accounting experience? Yet we put business professors in colleges to teach marketing and entrepreneurship with little or no firsthand experience in the field. Is it any wonder, then, that a subject so critically important to business people would be so completely missed by business schools?
The science of networking is finally being codified and structured. Business schools around the world need to wake up and start teaching this curriculum. Schools with vision, foresight, and the ability to act swiftly (the way business professors say businesses should act) will be positioning themselves as leaders in education by truly understanding and responding to the needs of today’s businesses.
At the end of our conversation, I asked the dean, “How are courses on leadership any less a soft science than networking?” He didn’t have an answer.
Update: The school has replaced this dean with a new one who believes that emotional intelligence is an important thing to teach our college students. There may be hope yet!
Called the "father of modern networking" by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI, the world's largest business networking organization. His newest book, Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com. Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute, an international referral training company.