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Is networking working for you?

While the term “networking” is well-known, the concepts of “professional” and “effective” networking, it seems, are not so familiar to the many entering our industry… all too often when asked to speak at college graduations or so-called networking events for students, I generally find engaging in interesting conversations largely takes a back seat to apprehension and a possible lack of self-confidence.

As a result, I’m usually confronted by a sea of students nervously hanging around within earshot to listen in on my conversations and who eventually garner enough courage to ask for my business card… but little else. Instead of being directly engaged, many students find it easier in today’s digital age of communication to later send through their resume with no introduction or a vital founding network connection.

In this kind of scenario, ask yourself: If you were in my position, would you offer someone who hides behind an email and fails to make a notable first impression, doesn’t engage with you face-to-face when given the opportunity, hasn’t asked any significant questions, nor offered up anything insightful about them except in the form of a supplied resume… a job or professional opportunity? Most likely not.

Networking is a chance to break away from the comfort of your own cliques to meet others within your industry, but more often it’s being passed over. As our industry continues to evolve, the key components of building a successful agency or career largely remain unchanged. At the core of the most successful agencies is a client-service built on a commitment to excellence, expertise, creativity, ethics, responsiveness, and cost-effectiveness. The basics – knowledge and expertise – in any given area, are a vital component of any client development activities.

Once the basics are established, however, you have to distinguish yourself through relationships and contacts. The foundation of building a professional contact base through networking includes maintaining existing clients through expanded business relationships to better understand the client and meet its needs. This includes the concept of cross-selling opportunities for those existing clients to expand your representation into other areas of their business. A second foundation of building a professional contact base is the acquisition of new clients. A common denominator in both of these building blocks to growing and sustaining a successful agency is acquiring and sustaining meaningful relationships with clients, potential clients, and others that can refer business to you. A third foundation in the networking mix also exists – building a professional contact base for the benefit of personal professional development. That is, finding a new job or career opportunity.

Networking is the personal responsibility of you. It involves maintaining regular contacts with clients, industry leaders, and fellow peers. Success is predicated on building relationships, making contacts, and systematically working on business development each day. However, networking often has a negative connotation chiefly due to the fact that many people abuse networking in an attempt to sell something – whether it’s yourself or your business. According to Bob Burg from his book Endless Referrals, the golden rule of networking is: “All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.”

Above it all, networking is being a valuable business and personal resource, such as doing what you can to help other people reach their goals and desires, and expecting nothing in return.

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