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Planning and education the keys to networking success

Founder of BNI Dr. Ivan Misner recently blogged about a conversation he had with a colleague in which she compared referral marketing to the opera. She pointed out that in learning the opera, you start with simple things and move on to more sophistication. You need to gain knowledge and prepare diligently to be an expert in opera.

This concept struck a chord with me because it applies equally to every skill. I’m a ballroom dancer, a highly-ranked Canadian championship competitor and a part-time ballroom dance teacher. The same rules apply there as they do to success in networking.

You need to have a long-term plan before you can hope for success.

Dancers have to follow a plan to be successful. You can’t jump in with zero experience and expect to master complex championship skills. You would fail spectacularly and get discouraged. You need to have a long-term plan. You need to start with simple step patterns and basic concepts, then practice those consistently to see results. As you gain knowledge and understanding, things that once needed a lot of concentration become second nature and you move on to more sophisticated technique and knowledge.

Eventually you become a “master” in the sense that you no longer have to think about basic technique. At that point, what you do seems easy to everyone else, but it is the result of countless hours of effort. People don’t see the work you put into it, they just see the results. And that’s where the magic happens.

Malcolm Gladwell covers much of this in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, in which he describes how becoming a world-class “master” of any skill seems to involve 10,000 hours of practice. He quotes neurologist Daniel Levitin, “The emerging picture from… studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything.”

Networking also requires diligent practice. You can’t expect to be a master networker in the first month, or even the first year. Probably not even the first two or three years. It requires consistent effort for a long period of time.

Note the word consistent. You won’t become good at referral marketing by winging it once a week at your BNI or other networking meetings. You must set out a plan and work it like you would apply yourself to any other skill.

The basic first step

Start by asking yourself the following four questions. Write down your answers, study them, then polish them until you can explain each one using a very short sentence. This will make you a master of clarity, essential as the foundation of all networking. Then apply them to your 60-second elevator speech.

  • 1. Why are you in business?
  • 2. What do you sell? (Not the items or services, but the benefits)
  • 3. Who are your customers? Your ideal customers?
  • 4. What makes you different from your competitors?

Until you can communicate these answers, you can’t expect to be a successful referral marketer. These are the basic initial step patterns in the process. Only when you’ve nailed this can you move on to more complex technique.

Next: Three Laws of Networking

Misner points out three Laws of Notable Networking that must be applied to all your efforts in order to be successful. These are:

1 Have a positive and supporting attitude, providing a positive and supportive environment for other business people.

2 Use networking tools efficiently, such as your business cards, name badge and card caddy.

3 Train yourself constantly. Read books and articles, listen to CDs and podcasts, pick the brains of those who network well, as well as practice your infomercial until you’ve mastered it.

Like learning to dance, you need to start with the basics and master those before you can expect to have something that will produce results. Get started today.

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Planning and education the keys to networking success

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