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The relationship between networking and your community

Networking shouldn't always be about the next lead you'll get. By re-orienting your networking focus to your community, you can improve your business while also developing closer relationships.
Written Sep 29, 2010, read 2709 times since then.
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One of the conclusions I've come to in regards to networking is that for the majority of people doing it there is a "me first" attitude, or as I like to call it, "Who will give me business today." The problem with this attitude is that it's the wrong attitude to bring to a networking event. Only thinking about yourself and what you'll get means you're ignoring everyone else and in the process ignoring opportunities where you could help other people. However to cultivate a different approach to networking involves looking beyond just seeing it as a business opportunity and recognizing it as an opportunity to get involved in your community.

With lead referral groups the emphasis is on passing referrals and giving warm leads to other businesses. As such people are focused on that question of when someone will bring them business. Yet the majority of lead referral groups don't seem to work. Many people join and perhaps a few benefit, but the rest don't benefit because the focus isn't on building community, which is actually an integral part of building business. Instead the focus is on getting business from other people, but this process can only become successful if the people involved are willing to take a community oriented approach to their networking.

What does community really mean? As I got more involved in chambers of commerce and moved away from lead referral groups, what I saw was more focus on community and recognizing how business fits into and supports local communities. Instead of just trying to get business from someone, the focus was on how can we support our local community and businesses at the same time. Likewise, Biznik actively emphasizes the local business in-person component through events people can put together. The focus of the events is less about getting business and more about building community. And when we build community, business will follow as long as we remember that business is a result of having a community to support it. The following networking tips may also be helpful.

1. Reach out to everyone. When most people think of networking, they think of other business people, but your network is much larger than just people you meet at a business networking event. It's your family and your friends, and your neighbors and the people they know. Genuine networking involves learning more about what's happening around you with people you know, regardless of their business relationship with you. Learning more about people outside of your business networking can help you help your business network, while also building your community. For example helping a friend who wasn't a business connection get connected to a job counselor resolved in him finding a job. There wasn't any business benefit, but seeing my friend relieved and happy was more than benefit enough. This couldn't have happened if I didn't find out what his needs were.

2. Make the effort to care. When you talk with people that you've met, make the effort to care about them. Learn more than just what they do or what problem you can solve. Ask questions and pay attention to what they say and if a personal detail comes up, don't ignore it. Inquire after it! An example: I met with someone who wanted to have me come speak at a meeting. In the course of our discussion she shared some personal circumstances she was going through. Every time I saw her afterwards, I asked about her circumstances and showed her I cared. That made more of an impression than my talk (and the talk was a good one). Caring grows your community and strengthens your bond with people.

3. Learn about and participate in local community issues. Your local community is a place where a lot is going on that effects business. Issues can include school budgets, roads, and any number of other issues. While none of these issues might seem relevant to your business, participating in resolving them can help you strengthen your connection to your community and also help you meet and interact with people that could help you with your networking. For example, participating in a task force that was helping a local school district with budget issues introduced me to several people that were able to open some doors for my business. This wouldn't have happened if I hadn't chosen to get involved in my community.

4. Make an effort to support other local businesses. Supporting local businesses can involve shopping, but can also involve telling other people about the business. As you get to know other local business people, think of ways you can promote them to other people you know and then tell those people about that business. By telling other people about a local business you like, you support that business and raise awareness. At the same time, don't hesitate to recommend to local business owners suggestions for how they can get their business to stand out more.

Businesses and communities go hand and hand. They each can support each other and when they do, both business and community can flourish. By re-orienting your networking to focus on your community, you can make a difference and at the same time grow your business. It just involves thinking outside of yourself, so you help everyone. And beyond even growing your business, how you will feel about yourself will also be its own payoff.

Learn more about the author, Taylor Ellwood.

Comment on this article

  • VP Business Operations 
Auburn, Washington 
Thomas Evans
    Posted by Thomas Evans, Auburn, Washington | Oct 01, 2010

    Thanks for the article Taylor! Couldn't agree more with your points. So many individuals do not understand what the true meaning of networking really is.

  • Holistic Business Coach 
Portland, Oregon 
Taylor Ellwood
    Posted by Taylor Ellwood, Portland, Oregon | Oct 01, 2010

    Hi Thomas,

    Thanks for reading. I think taking this approach to networking can really change how people connect with each other and help each other

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