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What Is Networking?

Updated on May 14, 2017
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising and public relations.

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The One Business Skill They Typically Don't Teach in College

What's the one critical skill that is almost never taught in college, even business school? Networking. Yet, without it, one's career can easily be a non-starter.

Even worse is that many people have an "I know it when I see it" attitude when it comes to networking. But without a clear understanding of what it exactly is and how to use it, connection activities can be a frustrating and futile exercise.

Networking Definition

While the dictionary may have an official definition for it, here is my functional definition of networking in business:

Networking is the process of establishing and maintaining connections with groups of individuals for the purpose of mutual support.

— Heidi Thorne

The two pillars of the networking process are establishing and maintaining connections and mutual support.

Establishing and Maintaining Networking Connections

This is at the heart of the networking process. Establishing connections can be done in a variety of ways and venues. But the most common method for business is through participation in networking groups. These groups can include:

  • Chambers of commerce
  • Leads groups (BNI, Le Tip, etc.)
  • Associations and clubs
  • Networking events
  • Social networking via social media and other online venues
  • Informal networks of friends, family, colleagues and vendors

The key is to participate in the right groups because not all networking groups are created equal in terms of their ability to reach the people you want to reach.

And like groups, not all connections are ideal connections. Agreed, following a "you don't know who they know" philosophy, even irrelevant contacts can often come up with some outstanding referrals. But the cost in terms of time and effort to maintain and grow connections with people far removed from your target audience can be counterproductive.

Remember, also, that a "like attracts like" principle is also at work. Even if the ideal prospects you are directly connecting with in these groups do not become buyers, they may be able to refer you to people just like themselves who may be a good fit for you.

So the point is to evaluate networking groups and opportunities based on their ability to connect you with a big enough pool of people from the market segments you want to reach.

Networking is a long-term investment. It takes a significant amount of time to attend networking groups and events, follow up with good connections (via email, phone and in-person meetings) and maintain a presence in that arena until even a first sale is made. This could be months or even years, depending on the type of networking done and what is being sold.

Mutual Support

Networking is a dance of giving and getting. Networkers who participate only to get are usually obvious and are usually gone quickly. On the opposite side of the spectrum, network members who give too much (for example, volunteering for every possible committee) are also gone quickly due to burnout.

Decide how much time, effort and dollars you can and are willing to invest in each particular network in order to achieve your business goals while providing support for fellow members. Remember that the goal is mutual support.

Support can take the form of:

  • Buying needed products and services from network members. The emphasis is on "needed." No pity buys!
  • Giving relevant referrals to others.
  • Participating in meetings, events and special projects.

But Isn't Networking the Same as Word of Mouth?

No! Though both networking and word of mouth advertising seek to share connections and information with people one knows, they are completely different in terms of their goals and function. An example will better illustrate.

Say that I visit a new restaurant in town and I tell my neighbor about my great experience there. That's word of mouth. On the other hand, say I have a conversation with the new restaurant owner while I'm dining and I learn that he needs help with his marketing. I then refer him via email with a marketing consultant friend of mine. I have an established relationship with the marketing consultant and am looking out for her interests, as well as the interests of the new restaurant owner connection I just made. That's networking.

Word of mouth is completely noncommittal. I don't honestly care if my neighbor actually visits the new restaurant in the example or not. And the restaurant owner has no idea if I will, or will not, share information about his place with anyone.

Networking has some level of investment on the part of all parties. In the example, I had to strike up a conversation with the restaurant owner. I also had to already have the established connection with my marketing consultant friend and had to take time and effort to connect her with the restaurant owner. So what's in it for me? I'll have made this connection in the hopes that when they see an opportunity that's suitable for my business, they'll reciprocate and connect me.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2016 Heidi Thorne

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    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 19 months ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks, Larry, for the kind comment and stopping by! Have a great week ahead!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 19 months ago from Oklahoma

      Great overview.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 19 months ago from Chicago Area

      Got that right, FlourishAnyway! Networking has always paid off for me. Thanks for stopping by. Hope your 2016 is starting out great. Cheers!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 19 months ago from USA

      Building and maintaining a network of potential advocates Takes time but is worth the investment. Great hub!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 19 months ago from Chicago Area

      You're so welcome, AliciaC! Glad my writer friends are gaining some value from the posts. Thank you for stopping by and have a lovely day!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I love the fact that your business hubs are so useful for writers. Thanks for sharing some more great advice, Heidi.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 19 months ago from Chicago Area

      Happy Monday to you, too, billybuc, from the frozen Chicago tundra (-3 this AM)! Hope you had a great time at the wedding this weekend. Sorry about Seahawks loss. :( Bummer.

      Yes, networking take an inordinate amount of time. And, yes, I don't think there are many writers who realize they need to do it. (I have a good story about that actually... maybe a tidbit for a future post.)

      Thanks for checking in this morning and have a delightful week ahead!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      "It takes a significant amount of time"......yes it does. I don't know how many writers I've met over the years who don't understand this. Fostering business relationships is hard work and you must be willing to invest the time and effort. That was my long-winded way of saying I agree with you. :) Happy Monday my friend.