John Dinkel – Principal at Dinkel Business Development
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Almost 250 years ago, three men rode off into the night to alert the colony of Massachusetts that the British were coming to attack.  You’ve heard the tale, you probably even read the popular 1861 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. What you may not have heard, were the other two men that rode out that night, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott.  All three men were accomplished but only one had built up such a massive network and had built such impressive relationships that he became the one we remember today. That person, of course, is Paul Revere. He was successful that night because of the strong and wide network of people that he had established and their willingness to spread the word.

I bet if you think about many of the people you know today that are successful in business you can trace that success back to their networks and a pay forward mentality.  Building your personal and professional network is more relevant today than ever. We live in a very technology-based society that makes it more and more convenient for us to communicate.  At the same time, most of that communication is via our mobile devices and yet as much as I like to use my mobile device it cannot replace the action of communicating with someone in person.  People do business with people they like and they trust. You can’t build trust and you can’t build relationships on your mobile device. It’s imperative that if you want to build your business, your personal brand and your network you need to be in front of people.

Building your personal and professional network does take time and effort and although attending networking events is a key strategy it’s not the only one.  Networking events are wonderful ways to meet new people and I attend a lot of events each month. I’ve learned a lot of tricks over the years to make sure I’m using my time effectively and efficiently and the main thing I think about before going to a networking event is having a plan, setting some goals for myself and preparing ahead of time.  It doesn’t take long and you’ll have a much better experience. Having a plan and setting some goals simply means taking a few minutes to think about why you’re there and what you want to accomplish. Are you there to meet the guest speakers? Is your goal to meet business owners and CEO’s? Did you set a goal of how many people you want to meet?  It’s a simple practice that if you adhere to it each time you go network, you’ll get better results. Preparing for a networking event is equally important and the main things I think about are my personal brand and how I represent myself, catching up on the latest local business news and how I can bring value to the people I meet. Again, simple preparation can mean a big difference.

Other than networking events, there are other ways to build your network.  One effective way is joining a nonprofit committee or board. There are few things more satisfying then working with a group of like-minded people for a cause you’re passionate about.  It’s also a great way to build relationships. Another way is by joining a referral group. Many organizations in the region offer the opportunity to join networking groups and if you can’t find one, create your own.  Another way to build your network is by joining an association in your industry or a client’s industry. Associations are very good at offering educational opportunities as well as networking events. Lastly, when you’re scheduling one-on-one meetings with clients or referral partners, meet at many of the well-known hotspots.  I’m always running into other people at some of the popular coffee and lunch spots and it’s a good way to stay in front of your audience and meet new people.

I’ve also learned that in order to build your network you need to help people.  Having a pay forward mentality is not only the right thing to do but it works. The bigger your network grows the more people you can help.  The more people you can help, the bigger your network will grow. It’s not rocket science but it does take effort and you have to train yourself to think differently.  I know of several people in my network that are really good at paying forward and they are all some of the most successful and happy professionals in their field. When I meet with someone for the first time, I’m automatically looking for ways to help them and whether it’s advice or an introduction, I know that will leave a lasting impression.  That impression and my willingness to help may or may not lead to a new client but I know that if I help them they will think of me when the time comes. And if I’m meeting and helping a few people per week then that’s a few more people that I have in my network looking out for me.

Growing your network personally and professionally takes a mindset that you should carry with you throughout your life.  Whether you’re just graduating high school, in the middle or at the end of your career, building your network should be a lifelong endeavor.  So get off your phone and go attend an event, networking group or join a nonprofit and I’ll see you out there.