By Deborah O. Haggerty
Being successful at networking requires more than just a smile and a great database. Successful networking is a state of mind -- an attitude. Even though networking is often defined as cultivating potential clients, the attitude that will lead to success is one of giving, rather than receiving.
The selfish networker. This person enters a room full of people and views everyone as a potential customer. Her conversation is slanted to selling whatever it is she does. She has success, but limited success, and has to interact with a lot of people to get any results.
The successful networker. This person enters a room and sees people who need to be connected with other people. Her conversation is geared to finding out what people need and then determining if she knows someone else who can provide it. If she is that person, so much the better. But the key is that she doesn't go into the situation with that end in mind.
Once this attitude is adopted, there are three steps needed to make networking pay off.
Process. Process refers to how and why you are networking. Determine the answers to the following questions:
* Why am I networking?
* Who will I be networking with?
* What am I able to give?
* What do I hope to gain?
* When will I have the opportunity?
With these answers in mind, set goals for your networking, decide on a tracking system, and get your tools ready (business cards, brochures, contact lists for referrals).
Place. Open your mind to the endless possibilities. Anywhere there is another human being, there is the possibility of networking. Especially good locations are--
* chambers of commerce
* professional conferences
* social clubs and churches
* networking groups
* professional associations
* alumni associations
* charitable organizations.
A few months ago, I was in the lobby of a hotel waiting for the airport shuttle. As I waited, I noticed a lady lift a beautiful necklace from her shopping bag and admire her purchase. I said, "My, what a pretty necklace." I was returning from a conference I had attended and wasn't at all interested in networking. Those five little words proved to be some of the best networking I've done.
As we were loading our luggage, she asked me what I did. My spirits plummeted. I was tired from a long trip and didn't want to go into a sales mode, so I tried to be brief. "I'm a professional speaker," I said. "Oh really?" she exclaimed. "I come to these conferences looking for speakers for my company." My inner voice sighed. I didn't want to network now.
As we got into the car and headed for the airport, she asked, "What do you speak about?" In a totally negative state of mind, I handed her my card and a list of my speeches. She read them and asked, "Right person, right job--What's that speech all about?" Somewhat reluctantly, I explained that many of my consulting clients had been burned in the hiring/firing process, that I had found some objective assessments to use in the process, and that the speech taught a better way to hire employees. "Really!" she interrupted. "I have to hire someone next week, and I can't afford to make a mistake! Please overnight me the materials on these assessments."
When I got back to the office, I sent her the materials. She liked them and purchased the software and the assessments. Next, she hired me to come out and spend two days with her department to work on team building. The day I returned from that engagement, I received a call from another group in the same company asking when I could come back and do the same for them!
Without even trying to network--in fact, doing everything I could to avoid it--I sold product, booked two engagements, and made a friend.
Practice. Like anything else, proper networking is a process that must be practiced to get it right. Making a good first impression is of the utmost importance. Since you only have one chance to do so, it makes sense to hone your skills. Here are some guidelines:
* Keep business cards with you at all times, along with a pen and paper to jot notes that will help you remember the who, what, when, where, and why.
* Have a "TMAY" (Tell Me About Yourself) attitude. This short phrase will enable you to respond professionally and in a way that will attract interest and facilitate meaningful conversation.
* Remember the 3-foot rule. Anyone within three feet (about the length of a handshake) is a prospect and possible contact.
* Always smile at people. It's contagious!
* Have fun! Take networking seriously, but don't be serious when you are doing it.
Effective networking is an attitude -- both yours and the other person's. Your job is to get others to see you as someone who wants to help them, not sell to them. Once you accomplish this, everyone you add to your network will be selling you to everyone else they network with. In giving, you receive. Proper networking is a win-win relationship. *
Deborah O. Haggerty is the president of Positive Connections and a former executive with AT&T and Southern Bell. She is the co-author of The Sales Coach and The Communication Coach and can be reached at (407) 856-2897 or 2212 S. Chickasaw Trail, Ste. 306, Orlando, FL 32825.
James L. Craig, Jr., CPA
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