Networking is a high-tech-sounding name for a simple activity that has been going on for a long time: doing business through personal contacts. Writer and self-promotion consultant Ilise Benun defines networking as “a timely exchange of selected bits of information about your business that you offer when someone is ready to hear it.”
The purpose of networking is to meet as many people as possible who can, in some way, help advance your career. Networking expert Donna Fisher estimates that 70 percent of jobs, for example, are found through networking.
Writing in Success, Steve Fishman defines networking as “the single-minded pursuit of useful contacts at every convention, seminar, or neighborhood barbecue. To the networked, every stranger represents an opportunity, the chance to find prospects, reach targets, or meet friends.”
Why network? There are several benefits. First, writing is a solitary activity, and loneliness can be a problem. One way to cope with isolation is to force yourself to get away from the keyboard every now and then. It can be mentally stimulating and refreshing to have lunch with a group of writers or attend an evening lecture sponsored by a local business club. You meet new people, make friends, and exchange ideas.
Forming a “network” — a group of people you know and who know you — can open up many new doors for you. For instance, at one luncheon I met a man who recently opened his own printing business. We established a good rapport, and he now does most of my printing for me, paying closer attention to my jobs than other printers I had found through local Yellow Pages ads.
Networking builds a base of “people resources” you can count on to help you with many situations. Now I can turn to my card file and find artists, writers, printers, photographers, lawyers, accountants, computer consultants, Web site designers, and many other professionals who can be of service to me or my clients. I know I’ll get immediate attention from these people because we’ve already established a personal relationship, no matter how brief.
Often, I will refer one person in my network to another person who can help. For example, an audio-visual producer called and asked if I knew someone who could direct a corporate video for her. I was able to give her the name of an independent director I had met. The referral ended the producer’s search and put some money in the director’s pocket. And, although I’ve never asked for it, I’m sure both of these people would be glad to return the favor some day.
Networking can also lead to more business for you. Most often, someone you meet through networking may keep your card and someday give your name to a prospective client. Or, sometimes you meet a potential client directly. In either case, the more people who know your name, the better. The advantage of networking over advertising is that people you meet through networking are more likely to remember you because of the face-to-face contact.
Are you, like me, a reluctant networker? One way to get started in networking is to join several clubs or associations. Paying the membership dues somehow makes you feel as if you should at least attend a meeting or two to get your money’s worth.
Another way to force yourself to network more is to call up a colleague and invite him or her to attend an upcoming event with you. Do it several weeks in advance. Making the commitment early helps to prevent you from backing out at the last minute.
Some additional networking tips:
- Determine the mode of attendance with which you’re most comfortable. Some of us are most comfortable going to our first meeting of a group accompanied by a friend who is already a member. I am most comfortable networking at events where I am an exhibitor or speaker.
- Don’t be a wallflower. Walk over to people and make conversation.
- Get a drink from the bar and hold onto it, even if you don’t drink. Having a glass in hand can help shy people overcome nervousness.
- Do not sell while networking. Your purpose is to make contacts, not to get a client to sign a purchase order.
- Listen more than you speak. Focus on what others are interested in. “When you have your attention on something other than yourself, your self-consciousness will disappear and others will be more likely to remember and appreciate you,” says Fisher.
- Dress in proper business attire. Your comfortable, well-worn “writing clothes” are not appropriate for a business gathering.
- Don’t rush out the door as soon as the event is over. “The best contacts I’ve made have happened after an event — in the bathroom, elevator, lobby, or even on the street,” notes Benun. “That’s when people’s minds are open to it. That’s when their defenses are down.”
- When you get home, follow up by sending people a short note that says, “It was a pleasure meeting you; let’s keep in touch.” You might also enclose another business card, a brochure about your services, or a reprint of a recent article you wrote.
BOB BLY is the author of 40 books including the just-published Secrets of a Freelance Writer: Revised Second Edition (Henry Hold & Co.). For a free catalog of Bob’s books, tapes, and reports for writers, contact: Bob Bly, 22 E. Quackenbush Avenue, Dumont, NJ 07628, phone 201-385-1220, fax 201-385-1138, email: Rwbly@aol.com.