Small Business Builder: Networking

ByABC News
June 26, 2001, 2:54 PM

June 27 -- Networking, or meeting and mingling with people, is the thing to do for almost everybody from business owners to managers to salespeople to job seekers to parents to the new folks in town.

That's because who you know often is as important as what you know in today's economy.

In the best of all possible worlds, you could do your business networking and socializing at the same backyard barbecue. But in our less-than-perfect society, especially in big cities, business and personal relationships are sometimes a long subway ride apart.

To network effectively without seeming phony, there are a few simple rules to follow:

Don't fake it. If you're not absolutely sold on your business and its benefits, then networking can seem contrived and uncomfortable. But if you believe in your business and yourself, networking is effortless and fun, and you'll come across as enthusiastic rather than opportunistic. Whether you're the quiet type or a social whirlwind, take time to cultivate confidence, courtesy and poise.

Don't force it. Concentrate on listening with interest to what others are saying. Learn all you can about how they'd benefit from doing business with you before pitching your product.

Honor thy business contact. In the book I and Thou, 20th-century philosopher Martin Buber denounces "I-It" relationships (which are manipulative) in favor of "I-Thou" relationships (based on respect). A relationship may be useful without being exploitative.

Carry your card. At nonbusiness social events, your role is to enjoy yourself and contribute to others' enjoyment. If another guest shows interest in your product, take a few minutes to exchange basic information, make an appointment and then rejoin the gathering.

Draw the line. If you are a dedicated business owner, the line between work and everything else can get blurry. Make it definite if you want to keep your life in balance.

I know a plumber who rarely enters another person's home without being asked to "just take a look at this leaky faucet." Doctors and lawyers complain about the free-advice seekers who assail them at cocktail parties. One strategy: Listen attentively, respond with polite concern ("I can certainly understand your confusion"), and urge your questioner to call your office for an appointment or a referral. Or promise to call him, but only if you can do so without seeming presumptuous.