Build Your Network, Build Your Wealth

How many times have you attended a cocktail party, collected a bunch of business cards, and then put them in a drawer or a file, or just left them in your pocket, only to find them again weeks later? If this has happened to you, it probably means that you not only wasted your time at the event, but probably have missed several opportunities to build your network.

Fortunately, there are three disciplines you can learn that, when utilized, will mitigate these mishaps and increase your resources, both professional and personal. But before you do that, you’ve got to revamp your thinking so that you can live by the new philosophy of “What is it that I can do for you?” Period. If you take yourself out of the equation and focus on how you can help others, you will be amazed at how you wind up helping yourself, both professionally and personally. The old adage “whatever you reap you sow” really works. Take it from me.

Start asking questions and listening. You know the expression “It’s who you know, not what you know.” The expression should be, “It’s who you know, but more importantly it’s what you know about who you know.” In most cases, when you go to a networking event and meet someone, they are not a potential client for you. Because of this, you are not likely to do anything with their business card. However, in most cases they can probably be an asset to your network — but only if you have information on them that you can use.

Instead of “disqualifying” someone you meet because they may not be a potential client, ask pertinent questions. In fact, before you even arrive at an event, think of four or five questions you will be asking people you meet. Your questions should be related to what they do, what makes a good prospect for them and any key associations they have. Take notes on the back of their business cards on the spot. Now, instead of having wasted 10 minutes, you’re on your way to making those people part of your network.

Make it electronic. The days of keeping and sorting through piles of business cards are over. One of the great things about computer technology is that you can search for anything in a matter of seconds. Whether you use a full-blown customer relationship management system (CRM) or a contact management system like Microsoft Outlook, take advantage of all that these tools have to offer. Enter the notes you gathered about the people you met. Make sure to include searchable key phrases related to their business and their ideal prospects (e.g., attorney, intellectual property, litigation, etc.). Now you have the ability to search your database based upon attributes.

Don’t be afraid to connect people. I have created a habit that morphed into a discipline. I listen intently to people when they tell me about themselves, and if I like them, I start thinking of whom I can introduce them to in order to help them. Often the benefit is even bigger because I am potentially helping two people.

You can start this process immediately upon meeting someone. As they are responding to your questions and you are learning whom they would like to meet, you will typically think of a few people you already know to whom you can introduce them. When you get back to the office you can search your database for additional contacts based on the keywords you wrote on the back of your new acquaintance’s business card. When introducing people in your network, you can simply e-mail both individuals, briefly explain what each does and say that you believe there may be opportunities for them to work with each other.

Each time you do this, you have done someone (or two people) a favor. The people in your network are not just folks you met at a function, they are now people who will most likely help you out if you ask. I attribute much of my success to thinking and acting this way. To make a long story short and illustrate this with my own example, I recently went those few extra yards to help out a business associate. That same person wound up introducing me to someone else. The end result of this series of introductions? A deal — with a fivefold return for me!