Does Anyone Know What Networking Really Means Anymore?

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This is a special guest post as part of Make a Referral Week 2009

Susan Wilson SolovicBy Susan Wilson Solovic, co-founder of

Everyone talks about the importance of networking. Every motivational speaker, small business expert, business coach, and self-help/business author: They all at some point include the boilerplate networking banter. It’s become so common that I’m not sure anyone really understands what it means to network anymore. By the way, a bit of trivia for you, the word networking wasn’t recognized as a noun until 1967. (Miriam Webster)

Of course, online social networks make the definition of the word networking even more nebulous. Sure I use sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and I happen to like them – a lot! But is communicating via technology really networking? Call me old fashioned, but it’s not what I think of when I think of networking in the purest sense.

Networking isn’t a race to see how many business cards you can load into your database or how many friends you add to your profile page. Real networking is about real people and real relationships. So let’s get back to the basics and best practices of networking.

Here are my three rules for effective networking – the old fashioned way.

Rule One: You must be committed. You aren’t networking if you’re out for instant gratification. An effective network is built upon a solid foundation of relationships that are built over time. A number of years ago I taught a women’s entrepreneurial training course at a community college. As part of the course we discussed networking and their homework assignment was to attend one or two events. When we returned to the subject, a student reported she’d thought networking events were a waste of time. When I asked why she felt that way, she explained that she’d paid to go to several events in her community and she passed out tons of business cards, but she hadn’t gotten any business. Rule number one – don’t expect immediate gratification.

When you make a new business acquaintance, take time to learn as much about them as possible. Engage them in conversation and ask open-ended questions. Are there common interests you share? Do your children go to the same school? The magic words in my opinion: “Tell me about yourself.”

Rule Two: Develop a relationship. Stacking business cards on your desk or scanning them into your Outlook doesn’t create a network. Sending your new acquaintance a brochure or sales letter doesn’t develop a relationship. And calling to set an appointment or make a sale is really not going to do the trick either. However, taking time to develop a relationship is what’s going to help you build a solid network. For example, let’s say I meet you at an event and during our conversation you mention you are a dog lover. Guess what, so am I. We have a nice conversation and you tell me you’d like to know more about creating a dog-friendly office environment. So what do I do? I go back to my office and send a “nice to meet you” email, but in addition I include a link to an article with advice for pet-friendly workplaces.

Rule Three: Give, give, give. The second magic phrase to remember: “How can I help you?” You know the adage, it’s better to give than receive, that applies here. Be willing to put the other person first. Find out how you can help them and follow through. Perhaps, you can make an introduction or suggest a good resource for their business. Become the “go-to” person. Then, when you need assistance or business referrals, you’ll be rewarded abundantly. There is no better asset – personally or professionally – than a strong network.

Susan Wilson Solovic is the co-founder of, the first television network on the web devoted 100 percent to the small business market and the author of several books, including The Girls’ Guide to Building a Million-Dollar Business.

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