How To Properly Network

Raise your hand if you belong to a networking group on social media.

Okay, now raise your hand if you feel like being a part of the group is helping you to grow your business.

I’ve joined several professional networking groups on social media platforms.  I’ve also left several professional networking groups.  Why? Because no networking actually happens.

When I joined the Small Business Squad (shout out to Distinct for going beyond website management!) it became really evident that many business owners really don’t know how to network.  Tell me if this sounds familiar:  You have a small business.  You want more connections, more clients, more sales, and more support.  You join a networking group on social media, and it just doesn’t seem meaningful.

Either no one in the group is really engaging (even if there are hundreds or thousands of members), or the page feels like one giant Classifieds section or marketplace.  You are bombarded with branding messages, advertisements, promos, etc…and no one is really engaging with those either.

Maybe you choose to stay in the group just in case something meaningful pops up.

Maybe you exit the group and move on.

Maybe you completely forget that you even joined and sit inactive in the group indefinitely.

We never talk about it, but I’m thinking that this is a very common experience for small business owners, and the reason why is primarily because our networking skills need some work.  Definitions are important, so let’s look at a few:

  • Networking –  “the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.”
  • Selling: “to influence or induce to make a purchase”
  • Marketing: “an aggregate of functions involved in moving goods/services from producer to consumer”

(Special shout out to Merriam-Webster for documenting the meanings of words.)

When you think about the networking groups you have joined, which word would you say best describes the activities of the group?  My suspicion is that you’ve chosen “marketing” or “selling.”  In other words, you’ve joined a group in which most of the members view the other members as prospective customers/clients.

I can’t speak for you, but I didn’t become a business owner so that other businesses could sell me their products.  I started my business because I genuinely wanted to help and serve people – and let’s be clear on what we mean by “help.”  “Help” is not when you force yourself on others.  “Help” is when someone reaches out to you because they trust and count on you to assist them in solving a problem.  Trust and reliance are not built by charging people money or paying for services.  Trust and reliance are built through relationships.

The purpose of networking is to build genuine relationships with others. It’s about getting to know others deeply and allowing them to get to know you as well.  It’s about spending quality time with others because we are inherently social beings and thrive on being in community with one another.  It’s about learning to love one another for who we each are, and valuing one another. It’s about doing life together.

When we are doing life together, when we are growing to trust others, we will eventually get to a point when we are comfortable sharing our aches, pains, and needs with those we are in a relationship with. In this, we invite others to offer us help.  It is in these moments that others have an opportunity to use their gifts, talents, resources, and experiences to help and serve.  Healthy relationships are mutually beneficial, right? So the help won’t be one-sided.  Someone may help me solve a problem I am having, and I may give them money so that they can take care of themselves and their families.

When we’re networking, we’re not buying and selling.  We’re building relationships.  The financial gains that come down the road are the fruit of those relationships.  The purpose is NOT to produce fruit…BUT, the fruit will grow when you care for the relationship well.

Here are some suggestions for how we can shift our thinking away from marketing and sales, and towards networking in social media groups:

  1. Reach out to individual group members who you think you may have something in common with/shared interests.  Invite them to have a conversation, whether that’s a phone/zoom call, grabbing lunch or a cup of coffee, inviting them to join you in an activity…whatever suits you.  Use that time to get to know the person…not their company.
  2. Ask questions on others’ posts.  When people are posting and commenting, take time to read, reflect, and ask them questions about their post.  Not sure where to start? Go back to the basics – Who, What, Where, When, Why, How?
  3. Share a personal reflection and invite others to share their similar experiences.  Sometimes we have to open up a bit about ourselves before others feel comfortable opening up to us.
  4. Share lessons you’ve learned, or resources that you’ve gained that really made a difference in your life (personally and/or professionally), and invite others to share their own lessons.
  5. Have a little fun:  Don’t be afraid to post something a bit more light-hearted in the group (remember, the internet is forever, so be thoughtful about what you’re posting). Maybe ask an ice-breaking question, or post a funny comic strip that others in the group might relate to.
  6. Respond to people who respond to you.  Go beyond clicking “like.”  In real life, we don’t just ‘thumbs up’ people when they say something we think is meaningful.  We comment.  Add some verbage to your sentiments, so that you can have a conversation.

With that, I’ll end it here.  (Don’t want anyone flagging this article as Too-Long-To-Read.)  Bottom line, your purpose is to build relationships, not make a sale.  Sales are only the fruit of an already healthy relationship.

– CJ,