As I travel around the world, teaching and training entrepreneurs on the topic of networking and word-of-mouth marketing, I am often asked, “What are the skills necessary to be an effective networker?” The answer is that networking is just as much a mindset as it is a skillset. Allow me to explain:



When you are thinking about becoming more skilled networker, you often will think about what kinds of things you can DO to network more effectively. Some of those things will include learning how to teach others what kinds of referrals you are looking for, how to ASK for referrals from your clientele, what to use as appropriate incentives for those who are referring you. These are some of the components to what I would term the skillset.



It isn’t often that someone who hasn’t been through one of our training seminars, joined a strong contact network, like BNI, or read any of my other material on networking will realize that there is an entirely different way of thinking that you must be equally well-versed in for your networking to be as successful and dynamic as it can be. This different way of thinking is not being promoted by most people who are teaching business owners to network in order to gain more business. This is what I am referring to as the “mindset.”



Let’s take an up-close look at some of the areas where “mindset” is critical to networking for success:



1. The Law of Reciprocity or Givers Gain Approach: When you begin thinking about developing a healthy network, most people think, “Who do I stand to benefit the most from??” In other words, who out there is going to be able to send lots of business my way? I want to network REALLY well with those people, because I stand to gain the most from them.



The Law of Reciprocity sets in motion in-kind responses of individuals towards the actions of others. I like to call this the givers gain approach. “Give and you shall receive.” It is a universal law. What comes around goes around–you’ve heard it all before, but have you tried applying it to your networking?



The Law of Reciprocity is not transactional. That is to say, you cannot approach it with the “I did this for you, now what are you going to do for me?” thinking. The return might not even come from the individual you gave to, but the return will come, of this you are assured.



Dr. Wayne Baker says that, “many people conceive of their business dealings as spot market exchanges–value given for value received, period. Nothing more, nothing less. This tit-for-tat mode of operation can produce success, but it doesn’t invoke the power of reciprocity and so fails to yield extraordinary success.”



Baker goes on to explain, “The lesson is that we cannot pursue the power of reciprocity. When we try to invoke reciprocity directly, we lose sight of the reason for it: helping others. Paradoxically, it is in helping others without expecting help in return that we invoke the power of reciprocity.”



The Law of Reciprocity takes the focus off of what you stand to gain from the networking relationship. Put this to the test and see if I am right. I think you will be amazed by the outcome.



2. Diversity in networking: I was recently at a meeting of business owners and I asked them to share with group, one by one, the types of networks they each belonged to and participated in. It was interesting as we went around the room that several of the people there were in one casual contact network and then one or two industry-specific trade associations. This, again, is a mindset! Birds of a feather flock together!



I would encourage you to adopt a new mindset. Look for groups that don’t target people just like you. In this way, you will broaden the net you seek to cast for referrals. There are so many great networking organizations out there. If you go vertical, that is, stay in groups that focus on your profession, you lose the breadth you need in order to develop a wide-reaching network.



Here’s an example of what I mean: choose groups to participate in which are varied in their focus. Be in a casual contact network (eg: chamber of commerce), a strong contact network (BNI), a service organization (Rotary) and a social organization (your alumni association). This way you are coming in contact with a wide variety of folks, many of which will be either your target market, or complimentary professions that make up your own contact sphere. You won’t be limiting your networking partners to people who look, talk and act like you!



3. Farming Mentality: Here again is another mindset. I’ve written before about scorched earth networking and networking vultures; those hunters who just are out to bag the big referral or out for the kill. They jump from group to group, from relationship to relationship without sticking long enough to really become friends with the people they long to do business with or have refer them to their clients.



In order for networking to yield extraordinary success, your mentality must be that of the farmer. He prepares the soil sometimes for months before ever planting the seeds! He tends the seedlings with care, feeding and watering them regularly, putting up a scarecrow to keep pesky birds away. It is a long, drawn-out process to go from seeding a field to harvesting the crops. There’s no “quick return”.



I’ve said many many times that networking and developing your business with word of mouth is NOT a get rich quick scheme. If you think it’s going to start working for you very quickly and with enormous results, you will be disappointed, jump ship and move on to another group or club, hoping to get better results more quickly.



Approaching the process with a mentality that focuses on the process of cultivating referrals will bring the results you desire from networking. Again, it’s a different mindset that the average networker doesn’t even consider. It’s the master networker who turns her attention to developing the relationships with the professionals she intends to refer to her clientele, friends and family and would like to have referring her to theirs.



When I go to a chamber mixer, I spend all my time meeting new people, asking them all kinds of questions about what they do, why the love what they do and what their vision for the future of their company is. Of course I share who I am/what I do with them, but I don’t jump right in and ask them to participate in my referral network. I won’t even ask them if they are interested in visiting a BNI chapter, until I have met with them two or three more times to strengthen the relationship with the individual. This is an example of farming.



Too many times I see professionals who are trying to grow their networks ask all the contacts they make at a mixer to visit their referral group, or keep them in mind for referrals as they give each new contact two or three of their business cards! This is way too soon. Think about that farmer who is diligently tending the seeds he has sown and spend more time strengthening your friendships with those whom you wish to have as part of your networking circle.



To contrast with the networking mindset, let’s examine a few of the you will want to have as you develop a strong word-of-mouth based business. There are three in particular that I would like to take a closer look at:



1. The VCP ProcessTM: VCP stands for Visibility, Credibility and Profitability. I have written extensively about this particular skill set [See this article at Entrepreneur.com: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/0,4621,308900,00.html ] and don’t want to belabor the specifics here, but I would like to touch on a couple of things. What you need to DO in order to be visible, credible and profitable takes a certain skill set. Things like participating in the monthly mixers offered by your local chamber of commerce, writing a regular column in your local newspaper and sponsoring the Little League team are things that make you VISIBLE.



As you become more and more visible in your business community, you will develop a greater credibility. People will recognize that you are not a fly-by-night operation, but rather you are here for the long haul. As your credibility becomes more confirmed in others’ minds, you will begin to receive quality referrals from those with whom you wish to develop a solid referral relationship.



So take a look around you for the opportunities you have to make yourself more visible to others. Think out of the box; be creative.



2. Sharpshoot, Don’t Shotgun: When talking about their business with their potential referral sources, I see many entrepreneurs try to get in everything they do in about 30 seconds. It goes by so fast, that they miss most of it; frankly they tune out after the first few items on the list.



I encourage you to focus on your top two of three areas of expertise…keep in mind that you are not marketing to your referral sources! You are, in effect, training a sales force. Your networking team is there to keep an eye out for your potential clients. If you “target talk”, that is, hone in on exactly what type of client you are looking for, better, more qualified referrals will result.



If you break your business down into its lowest common denominators (LCD’s), you will find that you become much more effective in training your sales force. They will learn more about each thing you do and be able to recognize when they are in front of someone who really does need your product.



This skill set is especially productive when you are meeting weekly with a strong contact network. The difference between trying to say it all each week and focusing on one aspect of your business each week is huge! The impact that this will have on your referral sources is also huge. As you discuss each LCD, bring support material, client stories, things you can show and tell that will cement this aspect of your business in your referral sources’ minds.



3. Hold One-on-Ones: In BNI, we call these one-on-one meetings “dance cards”, because the idea is to go from partner to partner learning more about that person in a one on one than you will simply attending a meeting with him or attending a mixer with him.



When you are conducting a one on one, it’s almost like doing an interview, except that you both get to ask questions of each other! I like to recommend that you use the GAINS exchange format found in my book, Business by Referral. The GAINS exchange is an acronym that stands for Goals, Achievements, Interests, Networks, and Successes. The idea is to bounce back and forth and share something in each category with your referral source.



I once had the chance to see how this literally transformed a networking relationship between two businessmen who had been in the same networking group for quite some time, but had not really made a deeper connection with each other that led to a friendship, which resulted in an exponential increase in referrals between them.



They begrudgingly took my recommendation to do the GAINS exchange and found that they had quite a few similar interest, achievements and successes! They both coached their young daughters’ soccer teams, they both had a hobby of collecting sports teams’ hats, and they both had received their college degrees in the same field.



You never saw two seemingly disinterested people become very close and develop the type of networking relationship, because of doing the GAINS exchange, that most only dream about having with their referral partners.



I hope that by now you can see what I mean about networking being as much a mindset as it is a skillset. Clearly there are many things to DO that will make your networking attempts successful, but there are also a good many things to BE that are equally, if not more, important to this art.




About the Author:



Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times best-selling author. He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI (www.bni.com), the world’s largest business networking organization. His newest book, Networking Like a Pro can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com. Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute, an international referral training company (www.referralinstitute.com).