Networking has changed.
In years gone by, networkers did the Las Vegas Shuffle – they milled about business events, collected business cards to update their database, and then moved on to the next event. The bigger the list, the better their “hunt” and, in their often misguided opinion, the better their network. Others viewed networking events as an opportunity to make a quick sale on the spot, while others viewed it as a time to schmooze and booze.
Although some aspects of those old-fashioned methods have remained, the overall concept of networking has evolved.
Two decades ago, Ivan Misner, the founder of the world’s largest networking organization BNI (Business Network International), summarized networking as, “The process of developing and using your contacts to increase your business, enhance your knowledge, expand your sphere of influence or serve your community.”
Since then, two key words have changed in that definition: “Use ” became “activate” and “contact” became “relationship”. These changes truly exemplify the major shifts in how networking is viewed and utilized today.
The first linguistic change occurred as professional networkers realized that “using” is a one-way street, while “activating” is a major two-way highway. Activating a relationship is more powerful, more true to who we are – or need to be – if we want to engage potential clients.
Furthermore, to understand the evolution of business networking, it is crucial to understand the difference between hunting and farming mentalities. The hunter wants the quick kill – a quick, right now sale. A farmer understands that you need to till the soil, plant the seed, fertilize and water it before you can harvest the crop. In the same way, building your business using networking means that you must cultivate or develop genuine and authentic relationships – only then can you truly expect to receive referrals, or harvest the crop.
The antiquated goal of collecting “contacts” is no more; today’s networking centres around building “relationships”. It is really about helping others as a way of growing your business. The people you help are more willing to help you or connect you to people they know. This is the basic thinking and methodology behind creating referral-based business growth.
By simply changing a couple words in the original definition, the true meaning of effective networking becomes clear. It is much more congruent with the style of networking we teach every day, a style that really works.