Networking: Building your business connections

Three business people talking to each other

By: Landon Mitchell

What is networking?

Networking is the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or interest, usually in an informal social setting, and it is essential in business. Learning to find, engage, and close investors are tools every entrepreneur needs. These skills are useful for more than just finding investors. They’re a primary driver of getting sales, referrals, and other means of packing your pipeline with good leads! They are also used to find job applicants and in market research to get you in front of difficult-to-reach people that could help you learn and understand a specific field, as well as important policy and decision-makers.

When you start networking, you (obviously) have to make connections to get to where you want to be. So you go to networking events, call personal assistants, get on people’s calendars, meet them, and become friends to build that network and relationship. Though, the problem is that these people don’t have time or, honestly, a reason to care about you. The assistants in charge of their calendars act as gatekeepers. These people don’t need friends. So, instead of trying to navigate straightway to your end goal, you start with people you already know and trust to build your network. You have those people you know introduce you to people they know that might be closer to your end goal, and so forth. Pretty quickly, you’ll reach your goal.

How should I network?

The best place to start is with the people closest to you! And it’s your job to make it as easy as possible for them to help you. I want you to try a mental exercise in your head. Make a list of each of these different things:

  1. What’s a good restaurant in your state?
  2. What’s a good restaurant around you?
  3. What’s a good Mexican restaurant where you live?
  4. What’s a fast-casual restaurant appropriate for business lunches within a five-minute drive of your place of work?

With every question, your choices were more and more constrained, and because of this, they likely generated more and more options in your mind. The same applies when making business connections. When you say, “I’m looking to talk to anybody,” chances are you’re not going to because people don’t know everyone; they know someone. And until you can help people recognize the someone you’re trying to get to, it becomes difficult for them to know who to refer you to. The more specific you make your goal, the better. For example, let’s say you’re looking for someone who does billing in a pediatric office for a hospital system. While not very many people would know someone that does billing in a pediatric office, they might be able to put you in contact with a doctor, which is still a significant step towards your goal.

Meeting people

When you’re just meeting someone off a referral, you want to go from knowing nothing about each other to getting time from them. Here’s an outline you can use when meeting someone for the first time:

  1. You don’t know me, but our mutual associate [name] recommended you highly.
  2. I am trying to [specific goal], and [name] said you are the best person they know for this.
  3. Is there a time I can sit down with you for fifteen minutes to discuss this? (preferably in person)

Remember this: you never want to throw a sales pitch or anything like it. You want to try to build a relationship with them. You want to make sure they know you’re genuinely interested in them and that you aren’t just using them as a tool to get to where you want to be. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The more effort you put into a relationship with a person, the likelihood they help you increases. If you ever wonder if you’re being overbearing, just ask them! You want to show them that you’re respectful of their time.

And here’s an outline for that 15-minute meeting:

  1. I appreciate this so much. You came so highly recommended by [name]. How do you know them? 
  2. [Review ultimate goal] What experience have you had with this?
  3. Who would you want to talk to if you were in my position? [get three people, ask for an introduction]
  4. Do you think anyone would be interested in [ultimate goal]? How would you recommend I proceed? [solicit follow-up]

Once again, the more effort you put into the relationship you’re trying to create, the more likely they are to help. It’s always a good idea to ask for advice when in contact with someone that is in a position to help you! Remember this: If you ask for money, you’re more likely to get advice, and if you ask for advice, you’re more likely to get money. 

And there you have it! Connections are valuable and imperative to business, and this process helps shorten the path you take towards creating them. To learn more about networking, you can watch the full workshop.

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