When Networking Goes Wrong

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about the benefits of networking, wonderful tool that it is. At the centre of networking, we’re all seeking referrals. I have spent 17 years networking in a structured way and have built a business around it. It has helped us secure the right kind of clients in that business over this time and I have learned a lot about how networking works; the benefits to all involved and the inherent risks that accompany it.

When seeking referrals, we must be very specific about who our target is. We must not only convey who we do want to meet but also those we don’t. This is not elitist, it is simply ensuring that you are introduced to the people who will be the best fit for you and your business. What do you want these people to deliver to you? Is it the everyday bread and butter of your business, or are you looking for your premium customer or client who is in interested in the best that you have to offer? Also, will these clients be long term or short term ones? You must know the answers to these questions before you go into any meeting (or one to one) so that you can convey it clearly to your network. This saves everybody time. If you have an idea of who in your network has this kind of contacts, it allows you to be even more focussed in your networking efforts.

Receiving a referral from a trusted member of your network group is a significant endorsement of you and your business and should be relished as such. Remember, if you have been referred it took a lot of trust and confidence on the part of the referrer to make that judgement about you. It says I see the value in what you do, I like the way you work and I can trust this person to you.

Receiving a referral marks you out as an authority in your field.

However, things don’t always go to plan. Sometimes mistakes can be made and the situation takes a turn for the worse. When you’re working in this world of referrals, you are dealing with personal reputations, good names that have been built up over years. These are at risk when you make a referral and when it goes horribly wrong people change their mind about you; whether you had a hand in the problem or not. You are the one who recommended the referral and so, you can be held responsible for the mess. All the work that you put in to nurture that relationship can be undone in one short misstep by your network partner.

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The old adage applies, when you do something good for someone they will tell two or three people, but when you do something wrong, they’ll tell ten. If those ten people happen to be members of your network, it’ll be as though you’ve got the plague! No-one will come near you and you will have a huge hill to climb to recover your position.

When a network partner lets you down by not delivering the service that you believed they would, or when the person in receipt of service reneges on payment, the situation needs to be dealt with by you swiftly and forcefully. You have worked very hard to win your good reputation and should not allow it to be trashed by anyone. Dealing with the matter swiftly is your only option. Doing so shows the injured party that you acted in good faith and did not foresee the difficulties that have arisen. This can go some way towards repairing your relationship. Speaking to the person who has let you down gives them an opportunity to understand just how much value you put in your network contacts. Sometimes not everyone appreciates how important a situation is in our eyes. Having this conversation may also allow for reconciliation to occur, if not now, at some point in the future.

Sometimes the decision to make a referral or not can come down to that gut feeling you have about another person. Do you trust them, really trust them? If something inside tells you that it’s a bit risky, then by all means, do not pass on the referral. Just because there is an opportunity to make a referral does not always mean that you should. It is ok to step back now and again to evaluate the situation, remember when you make a referral there are three people involved, if it goes well then everybody wins – but if it goes wrong, two people, one of whom will be you could end up hurt and damaged by an error in judgement.

Business relationships are built on trust and confidence, two things we do not want to lose. Networking is about more than just securing yourself new business, it is about creating a community of trusted individuals who can support each other through the highs and lows of running a business. Make building good relationships your primary aim in networking and you won’t go too far wrong.

Networking – How does it actually work?

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Last week’s blog post gave an introduction to networking. Today, we’ll look at how it works in more detail.

When I first joined network groups it seemed as if I had become a member of a secret society. There was a whole new language to be learned ‘One to One’, ‘Sixty Seconds’, the ‘Power Groups’- what did all these phrases mean? It became evident over time that some members of the group understood this coded language, while others did not. Those that didn’t ‘get’ the language ended up leaving the groups, disappointed.

My experience of helping to run network groups led me to understand the importance of explaining to new members that it would take an adjustment period of a few weeks before they would understand the way that things worked and the language involved. That they should invest this time before deciding whether they wanted to join or not. This would give them the opportunity to understand the relationships that we were cultivating in the group and how we went about building those relationships and the structures that are in place to reinforce those relationships over time.

As I mentioned in the last blog post, there are two pillars upon which networking is built – Trust and Confidence. Everything that happens in and around a network group is focused on developing those two elements so that networks can deliver what the members want for themselves.

A regular occurrence at a network is meeting is the so-called ‘Sixty Seconds’. This is where a member has the opportunity to stand up and introduce themselves to the group. They explain who they are, what they actually do in their business, who they would like to meet and the kind of business referrals that they are hoping to receive. There are essentially three parts to a Sixty Seconds presentation – who you are, what you do and who you want to meet. You need to deliver this message clearly at the business networking event, but also listen carefully when others are giving their presentations as this tells you precisely who they are and why they’re here. This is the foundation upon which you can build a relationship with them. The message that you deliver in your Sixty Seconds needs to be repeated again and again. There are reasons for this that I will explore in later posts.

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A ‘one to one’ is another key part of the networking process. These meetings are arranged by two members of the network for a time outside of the normal network meeting. This gives you an opportunity to learn about them in a very specific way that allows you both to grow a symbiotic relationship. This time, invested in this two-party relationship gives you time to build trust, as you both show up with a desire to help the other person. Through these meetings, you can build a vivid picture of what their ideal referral looks like, sometimes this is a straight forward process, but other times it is a little more complex and requires time so that you can establish how precisely this new network colleague provides benefit to their clients, what it is that their clients value most about them. When you know this, it is so much easier to choose the right person to refer to them.

Power groups or synergy groups are businesses and individuals whose activities have a natural affinity with one another. For example, a mortgage intermediary will have a natural relationship with accountants, solicitors, and auctioneers. They can pass business to each other every day of the week because they operate within the same area without competing with each other. To do so, they have to build a trust relationship and have trust in each other both as people and as skilled workers. Think of those businesses which are within your own area but with whom you do not compete, these are the contacts who may be able to provide you with a steady flow of referrals.

Sometimes the value of networking does not manifest itself in terms of the business it generates for you, but in the value that you can deliver to the people who you do business with every day, by helping them to solve their problems. In doing so, you create value for your clients which has absolutely nothing to do with the product or service you sell. You become a valuable resource which the client cannot do without. You become indispensable.

Regardless of what industry you are in, the principles of networking remain the same. The focus should be on the people involved and on building solid relationships. At the end of the day, we all do business with people, preferably people we know, understand and trust. Networking is the best framework I know of to build this type of relationship.