I’m a member of a new group for women rainmakers. We get together about every other month to chat about our marketing efforts and challenges. They’re wonderful women but I cringed at our last meeting when one member suggested that we make a concerted effort to refer each other business.
I understand why she made this suggestion – the ultimate purpose of networking is to get more business, but I think too many people miss that the point is building relationships. I avoid all referral-based networking groups like BNIs. These groups only let one person from of each type of profession join the group and the overt expectation is you’ll give referrals to other group members. This might be a good idea if you’re new to town and building a network from scratch. But I’ve lived in my city for nearly a decade so even though I’m a relatively new lawyer, I already have my go-to network professionals that I know and trust. Why would I refer work to someone I’ve had lunch with in a big group setting three times over the person I’ve worked directly with for years?
A lot of professionals, and especially women, don’t get that relationship-building aspect of networking. My female counterparts who work in firms mistakenly believe that working hard at their jobs will eventually get them what they want. And I don’t think that’s true – that method will keep you where you are. The reason why the “slacker” in the office is moving up the ranks faster is because they’re taking the time to form mutually-beneficial relationships in and outside the company. Their connections lead to the opportunities that get them ahead. This is why Lois Frankel advises women that they need to spend 5% of their day “wasting time” and building relationships.
The most successful people I know have meet and greet meetings at least three times a week, who never eat alone, and really get to know people. They don’t just talk to people about their work. They talk about their kids, where they like to travel, their favorite hobbies – stuff that feels irrelevant in the professional world, but is the stuff that matters most. They don’t have a list of contacts; they have a network of relationships.
And let me tell you a secret – I have a bad memory when it comes to people. I have to meet you at least 3 times to remember who are. I maintain a database of my contacts and I keep track of what you do and also what we talked about in terms of kids, vacations, upbringing, etc. It’s the personal connections that become the basis of our relationship. (If you’re a jerk, I will write myself a note that reminds me to never send business your way.)
I will almost never refer business to someone I’ve met once and exchanged business cards at a networking event. I refer business to people I see on a regular basis and who I genuinely like as a person. It happened this year with my friend Jeremy Rodgers who I met about a year ago. He works at Community Tire Pros and Auto Repair. I see him at events all the time. We never talk about work beyond the generic, “How’s business?” We chat about things that are way more interesting. He’s a nice guy and I like what his company does in the community. When I needed new tires this year, I didn’t think to go anywhere except Community Tire. (BTW – They took wonderful care of me and my car.)
In a world where, “It’s not who you know, but who knows you,” relationship building needs to be a priority. People hire people, not businesses so making connections with others is critical. And it can be a challenge to give yourself permission to make building relationships a priority – it is for me. I constantly remind myself that going to events and especially doing the one-on-one follow-up creates the foundation on which my future success will be built.