You go to a networking happy hour, strike up conversations with other business owners and exchange business cards. You go home and one of you follows up with an email proposing a coffee date. You meet and chat more. You add them to your database, hoping that someday, surely, if the stars align, you can refer business to each other.
I like lattes as much as the next person, but let’s be real: Too often these meetings don’t result in any meaningful results. And when I know actual paying work needs attention and existing partnerships need nurturing, it’s hard to justify the time for yet another coffee with a new contact based on a generic hope.
Yes, networking is part of business development. But we can’t just sit down with someone, even over our favorite dark roast, and launch into our sales pitch. That’s not how it works. True networking builds a mutually beneficial relationship. How can you be a helpful resource to this person?
I hope to be a resource to you by introducing you to networking advice I’ve found helpful from Alecia Huck, expert in human behavior and process science, and owner of MAVERICK Company. Her excellent article, “Death by Coffee,” explains how to network smarter for better results.
“We need other humans to thrive both professionally and personally,” says Huck. “When networking doesn’t work, it’s usually because the humanity of it has been left out. It’s become transactional… my card for yours, my commercial for yours, my contacts for yours.” Her recommendations reinsert the humanity.
“When you scout out opportunities in advance, you’ll be ready to invite others to access resources of value with you and, in the process, expand their circle of influence.”
Networking for strategic partners, not clients
You know how home décor makeover stylists say to look first at the potential of what we have before we shop for new furnishings? Huck says to do the same thing: Look at who’s already in your database before you spend a lot of time adding contacts. Separate them into three categories: strategic partners, candidates, and contacts.
Strategic partners have successfully referred business to you. They have proven to be willing to refer, they know how to do it, and they are connected to people you’d like to do business with.
Candidates have the potential to become strategic partners.
Contacts are everyone else you’ve met.
Think of it this way: Networking for new clients will get you one sale at a time, fairly randomly. Networking for strategic partnerships has the long-term potential for exponential growth.
“Don’t offer to exchange business,” Huck says about networking meetings. “Ask to get to know each other’s philosophies and strategies to see if a strategic partnership might be a good fit.”
“Networking for new clients will get you one sale at a time, fairly randomly. Networking for strategic partnerships has the long-term potential for exponential growth.”
3 touches in 3 months to build relationships
Positive relationships take time to build, based on shared experiences and connections. When the fit seems right, Huck recommends planning three meaningful contacts in three months. These three contact points could be one-on-ones or group gatherings such as power lunches and networking, charity, or educational events you would be going to anyway. When you scout out opportunities like these in advance, you’ll be ready to invite others to access resources of value with you and, in the process, expand their circle of influence.
You will be supporting their winning, which is what a good strategic partner does. As Huck says, “When you put the humanity back into your networking, you build relationships and networks not just databases–which means you don’t just get better results. You get a better life.”
And isn’t that what we all want?
Read all of Alecia Huck’s “Death by Coffee” here.