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3/16/2003

Networking: A web for success

By Stacy Cornay

Barbara Bush is one of my heroes.

Itís not just the pearls, the grandmotherly smile and the feeling that she might reach out and hug you when you need it most. Itís more than that. Itís her wisdom, her counsel and her sterling reputation. Itís all the things that go into her character. With Barbara Bush, what you see is what you get.

Hereís how she does it, in her own words: ďYou donít luck into things as much as youíd like to think you do. You build it step by step, whether itís friendships or opportunities.Ē

Thatís called networking. When it comes to marketing, donít leave home without it.

Both networking and selling are part of marketing, but theyíre not the same. As Don Cooper emphasizes on the Guerrilla Networker Web site: ďSelling involves persuading, informing and negotiating. Networking is about meeting people and getting to know them. Once people know you, they are more likely to buy from you. ... Networking is meeting people and building long-term relationships with them.Ē

Thatís what many are doing when they join civic clubs or organize a foursome at the country club or go to business after-hours attitude-adjustment sessions. Theyíre networking ó building personal relationships that may translate into business. Theyíre putting their personal reputation on the line.

Marketing, advertising and public relations professionals have techniques for establishing a companyís reputation, but the people involved in the company make the biggest impact. How they are perceived by and interact with others impacts how those others view their company. We tend to purchase goods and services from those we know, those we like, those we respect, those we feel we can trust because we know them from networking with them in other settings.

Run up a warning flag at this point: Networking builds reputations, but it can also break them. The webs of networking are as fragile as those spun by a spider. So how can it best be done?

It canít be done dashing hither and yon handing out business cards and then racing back to your place of business and waiting for hordes of new customers to pour in. Networking requires focus, commitment and repetition.

Network the same way that you do to create and maintain any successful relationship, from friendships to marriage. Focus on the needs of the other person. If you do ó and the other person also is a good networker ó there will be honest, revealing give-and-take that lays the foundation for a lasting relationship.

Networking means being able to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. Thatís really not hard. Everyone likes to talk about his or her favorite subjects. Just ask a stranger about his or her business or kids or vacation, and youíre off to the races. Asking questions confirms your interest in the person and reinforces his or her mental image of you. Unless you trump his or her story of a birdie with your story of a hole-in-one, youíll be remembered when it comes time to do business.

Just to be sure he or she does remember you favorably, follow up. Send e-mails, make phone calls and give referrals whenever possible. Donít write anyone off as a poor prospect. You never know who might become a referral source or an information provider or lead to another valuable contact.

Above all, be sincere. Youíre really not networking as a mercenary. Youíre expanding your circle of friends.

Thatís another reason I like Barbara Bush. Sheís everybodyís friend. My goal is to possess her dignity, her remarkable reputation, her beautiful white hair (someday) and her calm confidence.

But Iíll probably lose the pearls.

Stacy Cornay is owner of Communications Concepts, a public relations/advertising firm in Longmont.