Expert Advice On Business Networking And Tips On Developing Your Networking Skills

Gina Bell interview – Co-founder of The Networking Masters

Gina Bell is President and co-Founder of The Networking Masters, creator of Joint Venture Mavens; co-author to “The Power of Mentorship for the Home Based Business” and “The Networking Masters to the Rescue” series of books as well as forthcoming author to “Soulful Networking”.

For years, Gina has been teaching entrepreneurs how to effectively leverage their networks and accelerate their success thru purposeful networking and relationship building strategies. She offers a free Networking Success Kit available at TheNetworkingMasters.com.

Josh: How do you define Business Networking and why do you feel it is important?

Gina Bell: To me, business networking is really about being genuinely attentive to the needs of others, being in service to others, helping others achieve their goals and cultivating a network of equally relevant, responsive, caring and loyal individuals (without expecting anything in return).

I love being a connector and helping people… it feels good and it’s the right thing to do. Even though I’m shy by nature, the very essence of this intention allows me to leverage (true) networking in a very powerful way.

This definition of networking is very important because networking is a concept that is largely misunderstood to the detriment of entrepreneurs and small business owners everywhere! A vast majority confuse networking with selling, prospecting and brokering ~ never having experienced true networking at all. After sabotaging themselves with a misinformed definition they walk away believing that networking doesn’t work… it’s sad and unnecessary.

When we give to others or do things to help others in some way it helps to build trust… and trust is a critical component of profitable relationships (in business and life).

Think of it this way… Your Network Is Your Net Worth. I teach my clients how to build and evaluate their networks the same way they would build and evaluate an investment portfolio per se but, rather than building and strengthening financial capital we focus on building and strengthening social capital thru the cultivation of a relevant, responsive, loyal and caring network or “tribe”.

The really cool thing about social capital is that it IS tied to your financial capital! The currency or benefits of building and strengthening your social capital comes in many forms (all of which are based on relationships with others)… referrals, information, advice, recommendations, joint ventures, strategic alliances, you get the picture… so while we’re not crunching numbers when we talk about building social capital, all of these results, can have a big financial impact.

Tip: Shifting your focus in this direction during economic uncertainty is very, very smart and something that you CAN DO in spite of it! If your social capital is high, you can literally leverage your network to fill any gap that exists in your business!

Looking at networking from a social capital point of view allows you to be very purposeful and strategic (not in a manipulative way) but a smart way… because you can build a network that becomes your insurance policy for success!

Josh: Can you share a couple of ideas that someone could put into practice that would help them to improve their business networking skills?

Gina Bell: A common barrier to effective networking is a fear of talking to strangers… This is a common fear that stems from our childhood. Think of how often you heard “Never, never, never, talk to strangers!” from your parents, teachers, grandparents, etc… Many of us have carried this fear into our adult lives. As children, this belief served us well but as adults, it no longer serves us, does it.

I have 3 simple recommendations to help you bypass a fear reaction:

1) Act like a host… Acting like a host not a guest is one of the best strategies for overcoming your fear of strangers. There is an obvious difference between the behavior of a guest and that of a Host.

* If you are the host of a party or event, wouldn’t you introduce yourself to people you didn’t know and introduce them to others?

* Wouldn’t you make sure your guests were properly welcomed, knew where to hang their coat or where to get food and beverage? Of course you would!

* A Host is active and focused on doing things for others. A guest tends to be more passive and reactive, i.e. they sit back and relax.

2) Ask for Introductions… If you arrive to a networking event and don’t know a single soul, find the event host and ask them to introduce you to someone. Make the most of the opportunity by telling them (specifically) the type of people you’re looking to meet. (That means, you need to put some thought into your target market BEFORE you go!).

3) Buddy up… Does walking into a room full of strangers scare you enough to keep you at home? Rid yourself of this self-sabotage by finding a networking buddy. You can approach others together, make introductions on each others behalf, and exemplify each other by sharing testimonials and more.

Josh: With first impressions being so important — in your opinion how can someone go about making a positive impression upon meeting someone else?

Gina Bell: Let THEM do 80% of the talking… and REALLY LISTEN. Then, go the extra mile and connect them with someone you know they should meet. When you make the introduction, share WHY you thought they should meet, get them talking and then disappear.

I guarantee you will be the only person to do this for them and they will remember you for it. When you follow up, ask them how the connection is working for them. (And always follow up!)

Josh: We hear a lot about the importance of creating value for the people who we want to develop strong networking relationships with. Can you share some ways people can go about creating value in the eyes of those they want to cultivate stronger working relationships with?

Gina Bell: I sure can! In fact, I’ll share an example…

Maybe you’ve heard of Joe Girard. He’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Greatest Salesman.

All by himself, Joe sold more cars per year than 95% of all the other dealerships in North America. And he managed to do it for 14 years in a row!

Not only that, Joe consistently sold more than twice as many cars as whoever finished second each year.

So how did he do it? He applied his Law of 250.

Girard believed that everyone knows about 250 people. If he could get everybody he came in contact with to remember him and recommend him to their friends, it would expand his marketing efforts 250-fold.

Joe committed himself to staying in touch with every lead, prospect, and customer he had ever acquired and he did this with greeting cards.

Would you believe he sent out over thirteen thousand cards every single month, each of them personally signed.

Keeping in touch with and building relationships with our contacts is a lot easier these days with email and social networking.

The key — and this is VERY important – is to cultivate relationships with the people in your network to a point where they feel good about you, they know you, like you, trust you… they really care about your success and you care about theirs too.

Josh: In your opinion, what would be the ideal design for a business card, from the point of effective networking. That is, what are the absolute most important elements one needs on their business card?

Gina Bell: Great Question…

A perfect business card for me has the following 3 elements:

a) My photo. The real estate you can leverage on a tiny business card is very minimal. If you have to choose between a photo of you and your company logo… go with the photo!! (People will remember your face before they’ll remember your name. And, this may sting a little but; your logo may potentially mean nothing to the person holding your business card).

b) My most relevant contact information… What I mean by relevant is… How do you “really” want people to connect with you? Do you want to receive faxes? If not, don’t put your fax # on your card.

c) High Quality: Thicker stock and professionally designed to capture the image I want the card to represent. Say “NO” to print-your-own perforated edge business cards — please! Don’t buy into “it’s better than nothing” mindset here. Sometimes it is better to attend an event without business cards… Simply include them with a follow up communication.

Josh: Can you share a personal “networking” success story with us?

Gina Bell: I sure can! In early 2004 my husband and I launched a new business, a Coffee News franchise, here in Regina, SK Canada. Shortly after our launch we attended an International Conference for franchisees and the resounding message of what to do first was… NETWORKING, particularly to join a BNI Chapter (Business Network International).

We didn’t waste any time contacting BNI Canada just the moment we got home… One problem… BNI did not have any chapters in our province. Without skipping a beat, we decided to start one. With the help of the National Director we invited literally everyone we new in business at the time (89 invites to be exact) and managed to get 39 of them together in a room for an information session. Shortly thereafter, the first BNI chapter in Saskatchewan was chartered.

Our colleagues were absolutely right… we were able to generate more than 35% of our new advertisers through referrals from fellow BNI members the first year and over 50% the second. Not only did we receive a lot — we gave a lot too and statistically, the biggest givers in a BNI chapter receive the most referrals too. Interesting isn’t it… It’s no wonder, that BNI’s motto is “Givers Gain”. They really do!

Happy Networking, Josh Hinds

*brought to you by BusinessNetworkingAdvice.com

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