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I feel like I’ve done a friend and sometime guru of mine a little bit of a disservice. I was very happily surprised to read some of my oft-repeated words thrown back at me today, by the brilliant Philippa Davies (tweet her at @mrsmoti) in her equally brilliant blog, Mrs Motivator.  She has me bang to rights when she paraphrases me saying ‘I don’t do networking, it’s always about sellers, not buyers’.

The case for the defence! 

Anyone that knows me, will recognise this as the genuine article. It’s exactly the sort of thing I’d say. But in my defence, I’d like to clarify my position. I don’t do ‘formal’ organised networking. As in the type you have to pay some one else to do. I don’t do the thing where I have to ‘rock up’ to some hotel somewhere and put on a sticky label badge, or even worse, sit around till its my turn to suffer the ritual humiliation of giving my ‘elevator speech’ as our American cousins would describe it.

If I sound like someone surprisingly familiar with these sorts of events, it’s because I speak from experience! I have actually done the networking circuit. I’ve done the breakfasts, the dinners, the soccer, the polo, the rugby, the galas, the charity do’s, small, big, formal, informal. I did them for years before forming these opinions. I did them and noticed a few things that were common themes.

1. Invariably the only people making money are the ones making money off the ticket price (charity events are clearly a different case)

2. The events were invariably populated by people looking to sell rather than buy (see the quote above!). Have you ever, upon deciding that you needed a product or service, decided to immediately decamp to the nearest networking event that claims to be organised by the relevant parties in order to locate said product or service?

3. The people who attended the events, invariably felt they should be there, rather than wanted to be there, because it’s the sort of thing one does in business, even if it meant missing out on doing something else one would rather do instead.

Now Mrs. Motivator has 11 ways to maximise benefit from these sorts of events, and what she has to say is excellent. But I worry about one of the reasons she gives as to why ‘freelancers and small enterprise types’ need to do it. She says about networking (and I can hear people up and down the country echoing the same mantra, to excuse, or even talk themselves into this counterintuitive activity) that it ‘means PR, marketing and selling. It just means letting others know we exist and what we offer’.

Now Mrs Motivator goes on to describe forms of networking (the afore-mentioned 11 tactics) that I whole heartedly support, and would encourage you to check out. But I’d also like to go one more step and explain more thoroughly where I am coming from.

Organised B2B Networking is Dying

Why? because there are better, more efficient, more effective ways to achieve the same ends. If I divided all the revenue I have ever generated through networking events, and the associated follow-up activity, into the revenue I have generated through the ‘old-fashioned’ methods that are becoming ‘new fangled’ techniques I am talking about, it’s a minute percentage. Simply not worth the effort. ‘Letting others know you exist’ you may be doing, but you’ll do the same thing by standing by at a bus stop!

I know what you are thinking. What exactly are these ‘old fashioned’ methods that are becoming ‘new fangled’ techniques? Well, there’s one word to describe them, and a bit bizarrely given what I’ve already written, that word is ‘networking’.

Wait wait..! I’m not trying to be obtuse! These days more than ever, it’s about P2P communities (the new fangled term) – Person to Person communities. As in you, in person, and your relationship with your prospect / clients, and the people who represent them.

The thing is, broadcasting just doesn’t cut it any more. Its doesn’t work on TV or Radio as it once did, its doesn’t work in the press as it once did. And besides, it’s getting more and more difficult to justify the cost. The Internet has changed (note: CHANGED, not changing) everything

As the song goes ‘The answer my friend is in leveraging your P2P relationships’

As the new media ‘wunderkinds’ would have it, we need to build ourselves acres of targeted followers. Communities if you will. And then ‘bind’ them to us via the supply of red-hot content. Content is the holiest of holy grails. It might be a blog (such as this one!), or a podcast, or even video. And the paramount of content? This is the so-called ‘liquid content’ i.e. content that literally ‘spills’ everywhere, is shared and shared again, beyond your existing community and into other related communities. Ultimately, causing these two communities to merge and become one bigger and ever more valuable community.

For community, read network.

I remember being offered a job, years ago, selling insurance. It was a good job, and I often wonder what would have happened if I had gone in that direction rather the media shaped one I eventually ended up going in. The guy ‘pitching’ me the job, told me it was a very simple model. What you needed to do, he imparted, was to simply leverage your existing ‘networks’. In other words, sell to your friends and family. And then do such a good job for them, that they would pass your details onto their friends and family. And so it goes. Sound familiar?

Now everyone can be the worlds most powerful networker, and for free

The difference today, is that communities as we currently call them, or networks as we used to call them (the old fashioned term) have never been easier to build, and certainly never been easier to ‘leverage’. And it’s certainly never been cheaper to do. Anyone ‘on’ Facebook or with a Twitter profile has a base of targeted followers. And anyone with even these basic tools can build that base to begin to generate revenue from them.

There are any number of experts out there that can tell you how to do this, experts far more qualified than I. From the almost scarily aggressive, overtly commercial and insanely charismatic Gary Vanyerchuk and his work summarised in the excellent ‘Crush it’ to the far more sensible and genteel, though equally brilliant (if not more so because of his sheer, well, gentility in comparison to Vanyerchuk) Mark Schaefer and the gobsmackingly inspirational book ‘The Tao of Twitter’.

What I’m trying to say is…

Now more that ever ‘networking’ is simply put, essential. But not networking in this organised paid for way the term normally implies. I’m talking about building links, networks that you can nurture and grow and ultimately make a living out of.

Years ago I did it by ‘walking the streets’ and introducing myself to likely prospects. By ringing people up and making appointments to see them. In doing so they had the clear understanding I would be offering them a solution to a business problem. And then I would be asking them to buy from me. It’s certainly an honest approach and I like to think an authentic approach. Not an approach most networking events make possible.

Today I do it by making face to face appointments yes, but these days I also have tools like Facebook and Twitter, and this blog. I have the ‘on line community’ I have been building over the last few months. I have a personal brand if you like, that multiplies and I’d go so far as to say super charges my efforts. An online personal brand that was not possible to have even 5 years ago.

So listen to Mrs Motivator and her 11 tactics to maximise your networking, even attend (reluctantly!) some events, if only to understand exactly why they are a waste of time, and then spend the rest of your time actually doing things to build your business.

The big learn?

First of all, stand for something. Be famous for something (more of this in the next blog!) Then work out where your audience is. They might be the typical retail customer, they might be specialised to the point no one else has ever heard of them! They are likely to be on Facebook. Or Twitter. Or Flickr, or Tumblr, or LinkedIn, or any number of other social media opportunities that exist out there. If you have big budgets, you still can’t beat TV / Radio etc. as well as this other stuff.

Then provide them with something of value. Something alongside your ‘normal’ basic level of service. Gain permission to communicate with them. Listen to what they have to say too. Build the relationship. It’s what we used to call ‘servicing the account’! Provide them with your passion and your knowledge and expertise. You will find an audience. You are bound too, the internet has made it almost impossible to not find your audience!

Only then will you begin to get out of networking what you are putting in. Real ‘return on investment’. Turnover that powers you to profits you may never have experienced before. Real networking, as in the leveraging of your community.

Not, with respect, networking that involves a breakfast, or speed dating, or opening up to your weaknesses or any other of the nonsense approaches I have heard about in just the last few weeks.

What do you think? Have I got something here? Or am I talking so much bulls**t myself! I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment below, or on the Facebook page, or even tweet my on @radiojaja