Every week, I attend an early morning Business Network International (BNI) meeting in Birmingham, where I chat with eager business owners and entrepreneurs, and we exchange referrals and cards and recommendations. It’s a group of 50-some members, arising early to network and spread the word about their work. And while it’s not in my nature to rise early and hit the pavement, I do it without question because the value of this network is so immense.
The only way we grow our businesses is by being in the world, sharing our expertise, and inviting others in to experience it. At Fred Astaire Dance Studio, there are many networks. Our students interact with one another, with our teachers, with our staff.
We go to competitions and meet other dancers, all of whom have careers and connections of their own. We make contact, we share information. We help each other out. For that is what networking is at the core – human to human interaction.
A Harvard Business School study reveals that professional networks lead to “more job and business opportunities, broader and deeper knowledge, an improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement and greater status and authority.”
Many people dislike the handshake, eye-contact, schmoozing aspect of networking. I understand. Who wants a collection of business cards bearing names you can’t place a week later?
The power of my early-morning network is we try to focus and listen and retain the information. And that same theory comes in a Harvard Business Review article offering four strategies to make networking work for you. They are as follows:
- Focus on Learning – Don’t be on a mission to promote yourself tirelessly. Approach networking with curiosity, eager to learn about others. Hope for conversations that open your eyes and your mind.
- Identify Common Interests – Look at networking as an opportunity to find people similar to you – for business, yes, but also for friendship, for camaraderie, for community. People establish the most powerful connections when they work together.
- Think Broadly About What You Can Give – How can you help others, rather than how they can help you? Feeling powerful because you can give to others generates positive endorphins, making your experience networking positive.
- Find a Higher Purpose – Business doesn’t have to be about making deals. It can be about making the world a better place. When that’s your drive, networking comes easily.