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Getting to the Heart of Why We Network

Author: Dena Kouremetis

Originally published by Forbes Media, March 15, 2013

How many clichés are we small business folks expected to embrace? Blogging: “Content is king.” Social media: “LinkedIn is for the people you know. Facebook is for the people you used to know. Twitter is for people you want to know.”

And then there is business networking, where in the past it was perceived as: “The bigger your Rolodex, the bigger your business…”

But is effective networking really about the fattest virtual-Rolodex, the most robust email-blast platform, or the biggest stack of business cards in town?

Many small business people who feel awkward with face-to-face networking – especially those who work alone from a home office or executive suite -- hesitate to join a networking group because they can’t quite grasp how it all works. I will admit it took me a while to understand this networking thing, so it’s understandable to imagine that it can be regarded as a card-throwing, elevator-speech-making, phony construct to hurl referrals at people you hardly know in the hopes of eventually being on the receiving end of them.

While some do still regard it (and treat it) as such, the most effective kind of networking is where true connections take place with other business people; connections that begin as introductions and end up in friendships before any mention of using or referring one another’s services comes into play.

A while back, I began volunteering to speak at the 20+ different chapters of my own networking group on the topic of business writing. Our network had plenty of real estate people, insurance people, and storefront owners, but I was one of only a few professional freelance writers, so I thought it might be refreshing to share parts of my solitary little creative world -- one most had never been exposed to. In these presentations, I covered the art and science of writing an executive-style bio/profile, and the importance and types of business blogs, along with a few other topics I developed. From the very first presentation I gave, I knew that as a guest speaker, I was not permitted to solicit my writing services to members. In my head, my goal was to help the small businessperson elevate his or her professional presence with better, more thoughtful writing as they branded themselves online. Besides, I knew most people in the room wouldn’t have budgets to hire professional copywriters anyway.

Giving away many of my formulaic writing secrets did not bother me. I knew the attendees who could understand and learn from what I was teaching them might apply them, and those who could not grasp it might at least think twice before hitting the “publish” button when they posted something online. What doing this offered me, in the end, was far more than a few de facto writing jobs; it opened up a whole new world for a person who usually sits squirreled away in front of her huge computer screen. I simply felt I had information the average small business person could use and became compelled to share it.

When you think about it, we all have wisdom we can share with other business people. Our lives are, after all, full of stories we can tell that offer others a sense of commonality. Our abject failures, our small successes, our blunders, and our accomplishments, along with the lessons we learned along the way, live inside us. But when we use both our stories and our expertise to illustrate points to help others, business just doesn’t seem so damned – businesslike! It can feel downright personal.

I will admit this aspect of my business networking experience has paid off in spades, even though I wasn't thinking about payback at the time I began doing it. I have gained friends, clients, recognition, and a lot of confidence I might not have otherwise enjoyed to this point. But that “what-goes-around-comes-around” aspect of giving and then sitting back to see what happens next has been the most enjoyable part. It's like planting a seed and then patiently waiting to see it sprout and then grow in something beautiful.

BNI's networking giant Dr. Ivan Misner says, “Networking is not about hunting. It is about farming. It’s all about cultivating relationships.”

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