It’s Not Net-sit, It’s Not Net-eat—It’s Net-work!

If you are in business for yourself and working from home, you are likely to get lonely sometimes. You have no office cohorts, no company cafeteria, no water-cooler or lunchroom to hang out in and chat with folks to ease a stressful day. The evil temptations arise then: somehow the refrigerator door opens of its own accord and ice cream jumps out into your bowl as if by magic. The television or radio clicks on (by itself) and that talk show is just so interesting today, and look! It’s about people in home-based businesses, too, so you convince yourself it’s work-related. Or you get lost in research, i.e., surfing the web…ahhh, and where did the day go? I’ve been so busy! But how come I didn’t make any money?

The answer to this problem is to join a networking group. Otherwise known as “relationship marketing”, networking at its best is fun, meeting good friends over a good meal and referring business to each other wherever possible. It is a support group of like-minded business people who cheer each other on to ever-greater successes. When everyone in the group is focused on finding referrals for everyone else in the group, the result is lots of business for everyone! And when you know you’re going to have your networking get-together sometime soon, it’s easier to stay focused on your work.

I’ve been a member of a networking group for nineteen years. (It’s very funny when I’m at a meeting and mention this fact—someone always comes over to me, wide-eyed and asks, “So is it working for you?”  Duh.)

The simple fact is networking works if you work it. You can’t just go to one meeting every other month, give three people your business card, and wait for the phone to ring. If you’re in business for yourself, you have to make the phone ring in other people’s offices. The best way to make a networking group work for you is to remember these three simple principles:

1.      Visibility: You’ve got to make a commitment of time and energy—pick a group, a regular meeting schedule, and show up consistently.  Create an entertaining way of introducing yourself. People begin to develop trust in you when you are a regular attendee of a meeting. It takes some time for this to happen, so don’t quit before you’ve given it a full year of consistent effort. When people just show up a few times and then stop coming, I refer to them as “smash & grabbers” like the burglars who smash a window, grab all they can in a few short minutes, and then disappear. I want to do business with people I’m going to see again next Tuesday.

My story: When I started networking, I owned a bookkeeping service. Everyone I met asked me what kind of work I did, and I would answer, “I’m a bookkeeper.” The reactions were swift and instantaneous. People frowned, drew back, changed the subject, or left in a hurry. No one seemed anxious to have a conversation about that. Something had to be done, so I signed up for a marketing class. “You have to be interesting in thirty seconds or people will turn off, peg you in a category from which you will never escape,” the instructor said. “Most people introduce themselves by saying, ‘I’m an accountant’ or ‘I’m an attorney.’ Boring!”  He suggested that you start by describing the benefit you provide to others: “I help people measure their financial success” (accountant) or “I help people protect their property” (insurance agent).  I started saying “I do financial stress reduction.” The difference in the reactions was truly amazing. People laughed, leaned forward, asked me, “How do you do that? Do you give away money?” One woman threw her arms around me in a giant hug! I could tell by a person’s reaction to that one statement if they were interested in my services. Reframe your self-introduction today. You’re not “a housewife”—you create beautiful family environments. You’re not a “mother”—you’re a loving support provider. You’re not a “teacher”—you’re a Guru. You’re not a “psychologist”—you help people find personal enlightenment. You’re not a “secretary”—you’re a business facilitator. You’re not a business- person—you’re a money-making machine!

2.      Credibility: Do a good job, honestly and with integrity. Be professional, always return phone calls, be on time, keep your word. If you can, join a committee, work on the board of directors, become an officer. That will increase your visibility and at the same time people will see you are a contributor to the success of the organization (not only am I going to see you next Tuesday, but I’m going to see you being a leader—bigtime credibility.) Look for the opportunity to refer business to as many other people in the group as possible. Call people and ask them what kind of clients are they looking for? What goes around comes around—if someone were referring a lot of business your way, wouldn’t you be on the lookout to return the favor as soon as possible?

Becky’s Story:  Becky was working as the secretary to a mortgage broker.  He was nudging her to become a broker herself, but she was terrified.  She wanted to do it, but how was she going to get clients?  “Network!”  I told her.  “Never!” she cried.  And I mean, she really cried—big crocodile tears.  She didn’t feel comfortable in groups, didn’t want to sell, didn’t want to leave her comfort zone.  But, eventually, leave it she did.  I dragged her to a meeting I was attending, introduced her around, and smiled as I watched her get more and more comfortable.  People were friendly and upbeat and made Becky feel right at home. It wasn’t long before she joined the club and attended meetings on a regular basis. One year later, she was president of the chapter. During that year, she increased her income five times her original salary—all through networking.

3.      Likeability: People do business with people they like. Not everyone in every group is going to be your best friend, but you can reach out, shake someone’s hand, and smile.  Remember this is your opportunity to greet old friends and meet new ones. The temptation will be strong to find a few buddies and sit with them every meeting.  Don’t do it!  Pretend you are the hostess of the meeting and welcome the newcomer into your group. Do some positive affirmations and talk yourself up into good, friendly energy. Leave your complaints at home. Then I’ll look forward to seeing you on Tuesday!

Roger’s story: I introduced myself to Roger, a financial planner, at the breakfast meeting. “I’m so glad you could join us this morning,” I smiled. He harrumphed and said, “At least the breakfast is a reasonable price—the dinners are just too expensive!”  Surprised by that reaction, I said, “Well, they may cost a little more, but you make such good connections, it’s worth the money.”  He said, “They are charging too much.  I don’t want to contribute to the profit of the organization!”  Uh-huh. I had just met this man and his first comments are critical of my group. He was a financial advisor—yet he had just told me that he was a little bit cheap and didn’t want to contribute to others. He didn’t last long.

If you remember these three principles and follow these instructions, you’ll have so many new friendships, clients, and referrals, you won’t remember what loneliness was like. And there’s a side benefit—you’ll make a lot of money, too. Just remember it’s not net-sit, it’s not net-eat—it’s net-work!

So, what are you doing next Tuesday?

Excerpt from Zero to Zillionaire by Chellie Campbell (Sourcebooks, Inc. 2006)