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Network your way to the top

Expert tips for building and maintaining professional connections.
Building a strong personal bond is key. iStock

We all know the saying, “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.”

But Ivan Misner, founder and chairman of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization, has an entirely different outlook: “It’s how well you know them,” he says.

“Networking is about cultivating relationships with people, not just doing transactions,” he explains, because at the end of the day, “people want to do business with people they know, like and trust.”

Using this approach, Misner walked us through some tips for being a more effective networker.

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Don’t jump the gun

Forget the expression, “it never hurts to ask,” says Misner. “It totally hurts to ask – if you ask too soon.” Before you abruptly hand somebody your card and ask if they want to do business with you or be part of your professional network, you need them to know who you are, what you do, and that you’re good at it, explains Misner. He calls it the VCP process – visibility, credibility, profitability – and you can only begin to “profit,” or in other words, gain a connection or referral, after you’ve passed the first two stages.

Connect on a personal level

After connecting with somebody you’d like to add to your network, the first thing you should do is set up a one-to-one meeting, says Misner. Whether you go out for coffee or meet them at their office, the purpose is to get to know each other better. To ensure a meaningful visit, he suggests exchanging and talking through a list of GAINS: goals, accomplishments, interests, networks and skills. Overall, the technique is extremely helpful when it comes to understanding who the other person is, he says, and “the more you know about them personally, in a professional context, the better the connection you can make.”

Show interest

When it comes to networking, “it’s so much more important to be interested than interesting,” says Misner. “When you show interest in someone else, you’re much more likely to be remembered.” That means asking relevant questions and paying close attention to their responses. Try asking, “What’s your target market? What’s an example of your best client? What do you love about what you do?” Not only do these questions help you to learn more about them, says Misner, but they also allow you to position yourself to help them later down the line. If they do eventually open up to you, he suggests concluding by asking “What are some of the biggest challenges you have in your business?”

“That’s your opportunity to act on being a great networker,” he adds, by recognizing their challenges and connecting them to somebody who could help them out.

Help out

Oftentimes, people show up wanting to sell something– whether it be their brand or a product – but don’t think twice about buying something or helping someone. “That’s the first misstep,” he explains. He likens the idea of effective networking to opening up a checking account: The bank expects you to put money in before you withdraw from it. In other words, “You can’t ask somebody for something without first investing in the relationship. You have to be willing to help people in order for them to help you.” Overall, he says you should be constantly learning about your professional contacts and their business, and looking for ways to lend a hand whenever you can.​

 
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