Networking is Not Working: The Secret to Making Meaningful Connections

May 5 2014, 11:40am CDT | by

As a professional financial planner, networking has been an essential part of growing my business. But, after reading Derek Coburn’s new book, Networking is Not Working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Connections, I look back and wonder how much more I could have grown over the years if I had the benefit of Derek’s lessons along the way. In short, his book points out all too clearly that when it comes to networking, most of us waste our time looking in all the wrong places.

First off, a disclosure: Derek is also in the financial planning business. He’s a direct competitor. But about a year ago, I joined his “un-networking” group in Washington, D.C., called cadre, which he started with his wife, Melanie. It’s a testament to Derek’s novel approach to solving the most common issues we all run into when it comes to networking that I might actually refer potential clients to him! How’s that for an endorsement?

As Derek describes in his book, he had a revelation one day when he realized that regardless of how much he read about great networking tips, he felt like he was spending far too much effort attending events and making cold calls without getting many tangible results in return. Derek realized that the answer to making more connections was literally right in front of him: his existing clients. What if, rather than spending all his time trying to attract strangers, he spent most of his time focused on finding ways to help his clients grow their businesses – a favor they would return?

As Derek writes:

So why was I networking? It started with the desire to build my client base and generate more business. Then it graduated to wanting to replicate the mutually rewarding relationships I had developed naturally. When I began using my connections to benefit my clients, with the intention of becoming more of a resource than a vendor or service provider, I discovered I could accomplish all of those things in a more meaningful and lasting way. I would now network in order to provide solutions and add more value for my existing clients.

That’s the foundation for Derek’s “un-networking” system he calls CONECTOR, which is short for: Clients, Open doors, Nucleate, Events, Community, and Trigger ongoing reciprocity.

The idea, as Derek describes, is to make yourself the “Ultimate Connector” by bringing together a group of 20 to 30 people who include your clients, their key relationships and other remarkable professionals with whom you want to collaborate.

Then by actively keeping in touch through events, dinners, and emails, members of your networking group can be looking to connect each other with the kinds of experts they need. Whether it might be someone who is looking to acquire a company, develop a better website, or find a great local sushi joint, the point is to put your relationships to work helping each other build your businesses together.

But for your “un-networking” group to be successful, you need to work hard to identify people who want the same things you do. As Derek writes, you need people, “who will keep you in the loop and help you be a better resource, while also giving you the opportunity to help them. With the right people in your group, you can open more doors for everyone–including yourself.”

Not only does Derek provide concise step-by-step directions on how to create an “un-networking” group of your own, he also peppers his book with great tips for nurturing your group and for making the most of your connections.

For example, he suggests that if you send out newsletters to your connections, stick to providing information that is relevant and interesting and not overly self-promotional. Otherwise, clogging up people’s inboxes will do more harm than good.

Another innovative idea he calls the “3 for 1”. Derek posits that the next time you have a few extra tickets to an event like a ballgame, invite a client, but also give them the leeway to invite several of their friends – people who might become connections for you as well. Similarly, you could employ the “Double Date” approach where you invite out a client to an event, then invite someone else from your network who you think your client should meet while also asking them bring someone they think you should meet.

One caveat, though: don’t ever follow up with a client’s guest unless you’re invited to.

When you add it all up, Networking is Not Working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Connections, is the kind of book that once you read it, you’ll be jumping out of your chair to get started on building your own “un-networking” group. And maybe, like me, you’ll only wish you had known to get started sooner.


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