Six Degrees of Separation

Most everyone has heard the saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Now more than ever, networking can play a critical role in the success of a small business.

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The importance of networking is evident in every business. Networking is a strategy that will create many opportunities for your business to grow, or even keep afloat in these tough economic times. The skill of this strategy begins with the ability to be genuinely interested in what someone has to say to you. Whether a customer, employee, friend, supplier, or banker, you must always value each individual because they are included in your network. To grow your network, you must be aware that it is not all about you and your business. It is all about how you can help others and in time you will get what you need.

Today, many businesses are struggling and therefore have taken networking to an entirely new level. Social networking sites, like YouTube and Facebook, have increased size of a business’ network from restricted to unlimited. There is no limit to how large your network can grow; therefore there is no limit to how much your network can help your business grow. An incredible testimony of the strength of networking is Julia Hubbel, President of The Hubbel Group Inc. Hubbel started a networking group of women in the Pacific Northwest in 1997 to develop friendships along with professional relationships. One friend turned into a large group of women who all meet for one purpose: to help one another through collaborative relationships.

Hubbel saw a business opportunity through the network of women, which she now views as her training for her current profession. She is an expert in building collaborative relationships through programs, exercises, seminars, and public speaking. The unique way in which Hubbel brought women together is exemplified in her speeches, as a seminar leader, and in her books. In reference to the excitement she feels about networking, Hubbel states, “Instead of seeing networking as this ‘thing they have to do,’ they see it as a way to leave people feeling good about themselves, a way to make a difference, to leave a legacy of value in the workplace and personally.”

The model and idea that Hubbel presents on networking is all about what you can give to others. How can you help someone else succeed? Hubbel wrote, “This is the real secret- when we develop that hunger to help others be successful it is amazing what comes back around to help us succeed as well.” This is the basis on which networking is founded. There are hundreds of outlets that will let your business soar if you begin to use networking tools.

Develop a Plan

The key to developing a strong network is making yourself aware, as a business owner, of what you need. Identifying your needs is significant in order to achieve the most beneficial network possible. A good judge of character is a must because you do not want to be involved, personally or in business, with someone who is not ethical. Your personal values are instilled within your business so involving someone who does not agree with them is obstructive not productive.

Building Relationships

Look at every situation as an opportunity to grow and build your network. Hubbel says, “No matter where we are, we’re surrounded by people we could be talking to, making friends with, discussing our work with.” It is important that with every person you encounter, the conversation is genuine and that individual not only leaves with a good idea of who you are but you also learn who they are.

Ask questions when you are talking with someone. Make sure you know who they are, what they do, what they are interested in and their concerns in their business. When you show a person true interest, they will return that interest to you. In this economic time, customers are not buying products right then and there, they are putting in time and effort to find the best product. Give customers that same respect and develop a relationship with them. Ask questions about their desires in a product or service and make sure they are aware that you want them there whether they are buying that day or next week. “Networking isn’t selling,” says Hubbel, it is building a relationship.

Relationships with Suppliers

Suppliers and vendors seem like an odd addition to your network but they are incredibly important for your businesses success! Never treat a supplier with disrespect or as if they are serving you. You already have a collaborative relationship with them, it is time that it thrives. This relationship is vital because they are giving you what you need, if they stop so will your business. Pay them on time because when your credit score is good with them the prices of your products have the opportunity to decrease. Positive relationships with suppliers also can be proactive solution to an emergency. For example, a last minute order or delivery will happen with ease if your relationship with your supplier is positive.

Relationships with Employees

Look at employees as your business’ free advertising. As an owner, you are incredibly passionate about your business so take time to fill your employees with that same passion. Employees can benefit your business in many ways; they can increase your network with each customer they encounter, they will tell friends and family where they work creating more customers, and they become the face of your business. If your network includes your employees then you must develop a relationship with them. “We are the sum of our relationships and our networks, they build us up just as we help build up the networks of others,” wrote Hubbel. Take time to listen to their concerns or ideas because a recognized worker is a harder worker.

Superb Customer Service

Great customer service enriches your network by creating strong credibility. Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to receive additional members in your network. When a customer is happy with your service, they are likely to tell others. The more people that hear about your business by word of mouth means a greater potential to enrich your network. Ask them how they heard about your business and if they have any questions at all. Putting in the time with each person who comes into your business will extend your network to new heights. Networking should be consistent, even if the customer is returning a product make sure they know you want their business. Hubbel believes, “we have to be building them [networks] all the time, not suddenly when things get bad and everyone else is also scrambling for a favor.”

Join Organization/Affiliations

To create further opportunities for your network to grow, joining organizations can be very beneficial. Many community members may not know your business or even you. Hubbel says, “If you’re not visible, you’re invisible-get out there and be available, be interested and invested in others, participate and be involved.” Research organizations/affiliations around you, contact the president and ask to sit in on a meeting. You never know the connections you’ll make until you put yourself out there to learn.

When you join organizations you begin to include members of your community in your network. You meet people who you can help and people that could be a good support for you. Either way, you are networking and therefore benefiting your business. Hubbel believes that small businesses are not limited to what they can achieve in networking she says, “You’re limited only by your energy level and determination.”

Lend a Helping Hand

The exercises in Hubbel’s program changes an individual’s perception of networking she explains, “This shift fills me with enthusiasm because people suddenly see the opportunity and they see themselves as givers.” It is important to constantly be sharing your ideas with people in need and to help them when you can. If you go to a bakery every morning for your favorite muffin, be sure to spread the word. Referrals are critical for businesses so be sure to tell people in your network and let the bakery owner know that you have spread the word. If they know that you are doing a good deed for them, they will most likely return the favor. You should always ask where you can help because Hubbel writes, “When we come from a place of service first, the rest of it all falls into place.”

Nurture and Maintain Your Relationships

Stay in contact with the people in your network. Ask what the best way to contact them would be. E-mails are easy and can be sent everyday, a coffee meeting demands time, but can be a very nice occasion. It depends on the relationship you have and what works best, but consistent communication is imperative. “We are seeing one of those reasons [to consistently network] right now- tough economic times. We need friends when times get tough- and we need good relationships, strong relations with our peers, other companies, mentors, collaborators, suppliers, everyone to get us through,” said Hubbel. “When we have a strong network to turn to when times get hard, it’s a lot easier to manage.”

Make sure to thank everyone that helps you because the return investment is huge when you maintain a positive relationship. Hubbel thinks that for a business to be successful, “a commitment to being of service first, an attitude of gratitude, an abundance mentality, a willingness to help others succeed, persistence, constantly looking to create opportunities for others as well as for yourself, understanding that networking is about the human relationship and making people feel valued and powerful in your presence and not a stepping stone in your career path.” She asks, “How are you going to leave a trail of value in the work you do?”

Networking is a commitment, but it is also a valuable tool. It should not be over-looked, but instead incorporated in your everyday life. Hubbel states, “When you treat people with courtesy, regard, respect and consideration, they will give the same back- and that’s powerful. When you help them be successful, they will give the same back, and that’s synergy. That’s how we create abundance for each other. With small business, in particular, it’s recognizing that larger opportunities are often available for us when we collaborate with each other, share leads, look out for each other.”

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