Is There Value In Networking?“People do business with the people they know, like and trust”. “Your Network is equal to your Net Worth”. These adages are staples in the business lexicon which I learned early on in my foray into the business world. Their history and origin are uncertain and not credited to any one person but their substance have stood the test of time. They lend credence to the importance and value of business networking; a practice that originated in the 18th century.

With the rise of the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries came the need for businesses to collaborate and trust a wider range of people and other businesses. It was not enough to develop a few partners and customers, then work with them for the rest of your life as often happened with simple artisans and craftspeople. In business, risk sharing and resource pooling became more common as a way of ‘expanding the pie’ and making more profit for everyone involved. Expanding overseas trade required business people to take the longer view and engender trust. Investors had to trust sea captains. Manufacturers had to trust their suppliers; and business partners needed to trust one another in order to reduce transaction costs, thereby increasing competitive advantage.

Some things never change. One of the main goals of networking is strengthening your business contacts. Networking is about sharing, not taking. It is still about forming trust and helping one another toward goals. Regularly engaging with your contacts and finding opportunities to assist them helps to strengthen the relationship. By doing this, you sow the seeds for reciprocal assistance when you need help to achieve your goals.

Networking is also a great opportunity to exchange best practice knowledge, learn about the business techniques of your peers and stay abreast of the latest industry developments. A wide network of informed, interconnected contacts means broader access to new and valuable information. The opportunity to gather new information is an often-overlooked benefit of networking, as it’s not the most obvious one, but it also offers career progression and development. It’s a good idea to actively ask your contacts about developments and techniques, but also to keep an eye on what kinds of articles your contacts are sharing on LinkedIn – don’t forget to comment to let them know that you’ve appreciated the piece. And don’t discount the insights of people from other industries – they may be able to offer new angles you hadn’t previously considered. (Michael Page, 5/21).

Being visible and getting noticed is a benefit of networking that’s essential in business building. Regularly attending professional and social events will help make your face known. Create value for other attendees by listening carefully, following up on conversations, remembering names, and offering your knowledge and expertise. You can then help to build your reputation as being a knowledgeable, reliable and supportive member of your profession by offering useful information or tips to people who need it.

In today’s business and professional environment, Networking is not just valued as a business building tool but also as a social construct, a vehicle that generates business while enjoying social interactions. The convergence of business and pleasure has allowed for the socio-political evolution of networking. Business gatherings now consists of Meet-ups, Breakfast Meetings, late Lunches and Happy Hour gatherings. And in the current virtual business world, there is Speed Networking. As a small business owner, I can tell you that in networking, one size does NOT fit all. The options are many but they may not align with the needs and goals of your business. Further, it is important to choose a networking option that fits into your business day especially if you are a solopreneur.

Your Personal Network. I consider the most valuable to be your own personal network. It is the epitome of the the saying “people you like, know and trust.” These people will probably be your first and best customers as well as a constant source of referrals. Your personal network also includes the businesses that you patronize such as your cleaners, the restaurants you frequent and the Mom & Pop grocery store. Be sure to let them know what business you are in and offer to help them in any way you can. “How can I Be of Service” is one of the most powerful ways to foster a business relationship.

Professional Organizations. These are usually aligned with professions such as lawyers, medical professionals, accountants, etc. Even though you may not be in any of these professions, these groups are golden for networking because you are the oddball that provide a service not usually offered to them within their group. The same goes for gender specific groups such as Women’s and Ethnic leaning organizations.

Service Clubs. Clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Optimist and other like-minded clubs that serve the community offer the opportunity to volunteer while making business connections. They allow you to engage with the wider community where you can identify its specific needs and provide solutions to its residents. You may not be the solution but the fact that you provide the connection to it make you a trusted resource.

Chambers of Commerce. A Chamber of Commerce is an association or network of business people designed to promote and protect the interests of its members. A chamber of commerce, sometimes known as a “board of trade,” is often made up of a group of business owners that share a locale or interests, but can also be international in scope. To sustain its operations, Chambers charges membership dues annually. It also organizes events and trade fairs several times in a year. Businesses that attend such events to promote their products and services are required to pay fees. Some Chambers are supported by their local government.

Municipality Business Groups. Cities have also gotten into the networking game. These have evolved as an option to those groups that are more expensive and unsustainable for startups and small businesses. They are usually aligned with a particular city or town and focus on the businesses in that area.

Business Network International (BNI). This group falls into the category of one of if not the most expensive networking options available. Business Network International (BNI) is an American franchised networking organization, founded by Ivan Misner in 1985. Members meet weekly to discuss business and support each others’ businesses by sharing referrals. BNI claims to be the world’s leading ‘referral organization’. It costs about $400-600 per year to join a BNI chapter (plus the cost of meals/coffees). Overall your expenses could run upwards of $800/year with food and transportation costs factored in. Many people feel that the cost is offset by the referrals and relationships generated through the organization. With over 275,000 Members worldwide, Business Network International (BNI) is the world’s largest business networking and business referral organization.

Benefits of Joining BNI:

  • Members make more money through increased referrals.
  • Increased exposure to quality professionals and their extended networks that can help you grow your business through referrals.
  • Your fellow BNI Chapter members are your virtual sales force.
  • Seat Exclusivity. Only one member allowed in each business description.

Social Media. Lastly but definitely not the least. Done correctly, social media engagement gives you access to an infinite amount of customers. While you are encouraged by marketers to “follow” the people in your business “space”, it is the people you engage with that are your potential customers. Although your goal is to build your business, it should not be your focus on social media. People generally do respond to repetitive business ads. They are effective if you have the resources to sustain it. What is more impactful is creating interesting, entertaining, informative and innovative content that encourages a viral response.

There are various schools of thought on whether networking is effective and worth the money you invest in it. I believe the positives outweigh the negatives. In recent years, networking has gained a reputation as an excuse for socializing rather than doing business. It is one reason I think for the success of BNI, despite the cost. They gather for one reason and one reason only – the giving and receiving of business referrals. Its primary goal is to increase the business revenue of its members. This is not to say that other networking options are not valuable. They are. They however require a lot more follow up and persistence and patience. The value of a network cultivated and curated in such a way as a consistent business resource is priceless.

Networking brings people into your orbit that would not enter otherwise. Those people expose you to their orbit, their orbit exposes you to another orbit and so on and so forth. The possibilities for business and personal growth are infinite.

Salomie Chung, MBA

Exploring Infinite Possibilities