I’ve always said that good networkers almost have to have a split personality. On the one hand, they need to know what they do and who their customer is. They then choose their networking in order to put themselves in contact with either that target market or with those who serve that market (and would therefore be a good referral partner). Once they’ve strategically placed themselves, however, then they need to forget about what they expect to gain from networking. Instead they need to find ways to help those with whom they are now connecting…

Help them without expectation of immediate return.

Not long ago, a participant in one of my workshops pointed out that just the fact that we want something from a potential relationship would taint it. What I was proposing was flawed at its core and was effectively impossible.

Could it be true?

On the one hand, I could see her point. If we join a group solely because we seek some selfish benefit, then, certainly, our underlying motives will color our behavior and make others see us in a jaundiced light. That’s the attitude of a user or manipulator and most people pick up on it rather quickly.

We need to find ways to fight this particular mindset. Here are a few ideas.

  1. Don’t join a group unless you support the mission. Suppose you decide that lawyers are a good target market for you. At that point, you need to analyze your own beliefs about those who work in the legal profession. If you can’t see them as inherently good people who provide a valuable service to our communities, then you might have a hard time placing yourself wholeheartedly in their service.
  2. Don’t join a group unless you have something to give. If you only seek to sell to the group members, then you aren’t networking. What resources are you willing to place in service to the group? This doesn’t necessarily have to be your product, by the way. Perhaps you have a training facility, meeting space, or conference room that you are willing to allow the group (or even individual members of the group) to use for free.
  3. Don’t join a group unless you intend to show up. If your life won’t allow you to make all regularly scheduled meetings, then the other members won’t see you as a supporter. If you are ever forced to miss a meeting, you want the others to notice and check with you to make sure everything is OK.
  4. Don’t join a group unless you want to learn about the other members. As with any connections, the event is only where you make that first tenuous contact which could turn into a valued long-term relationship. Until you develop that — something which cannot be done once a month for five minutes at a time in a crowded room — you cannot help them find their success. And they can’t help you find yours.
  5. Don’t join a group unless you are willing to be visible. Many larger organizations have smaller subgroups within them to help run and maintain events within the group. For the price of an occasional extra meeting and some added responsibility, the group sees you as a true servant of the membership — something a johnny-come-lately, sales-focused, me-first manipulator is unlikely to do.

Ultimately, you have to have faith. You have to know that service is the basis for all good networking. You have to believe that helping others to succeed is what will lead to your own success. You have to have faith that sales will come as a natural by-product of developing good relationships.

Accept these ideas in your heart and, given time, the groups you serve will turn around and serve up your success on a silver platter.

Greg Peters, president and founder of The Reluctant Networker, LLC, is a business networking specialist. He has worked with businesses and associations, entrepreneurs and job-seekers to create a world of better connections and greater opportunity. Find out more at www.TheReluctantNetworker.com or gpeters@thereluctantnetworker.com.

© Copyright 2012, The Reluctant Networker, LLC

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