As networking expert Dr. Ivan Misner once put it, networking is about farming for referrals – not hunting them. Hunting is an aggressive, one-off approach, whereas farming requires patience, perseverance, constant nourishment and attention – and a broader approach that plants several seeds and then watches for what sticks. The payoff isn’t immediate, but that’s fine, because the payoff isn’t the focus. Rather, the focus is on providing the seeds with what they need to grow and flourish.
Here are some ways to farm for referrals by nourishing relationships with those in your network:
- Set up an activity – Whether it be a one-on-one meeting or group activity for clients, be sure you make time for face time. Simply spending quality time with those in your network deepens a relationship more than any electronic or phone communication will. It’s time spent together in conversation or activity that builds the memories upon which solid relationships of any type are formed. Be sure to match the activity with your level of familiarity and your networking partner’s interests. It’s better to begin with coffee if it’s someone you don’t know well while saving the rounds of golf for people with those you know better. Bonus points go for making it something that is of particular interest of the other party, like inviting a client scuba diving after noticing scuba photos in his office. Don’t limit your groups by profession, either. For instance, the head of a public relations agency in Southern California has monthly prayer breakfast meetings with fellow Christian businessmen in the area. While they were all business leaders, it wasn’t their professions that brought them together so much as their passion for God and a Christian-centered leadership style.
- Follow up with an article of interest – There are few things more flattering to someone than having the details of what they say be recognized and remembered. In a networking situation, this can play out by simply passing along an interesting article you’ve come across that ties back to a previous conversation. This is done best when it’s sincerely casual, when you really do stumble upon a news story or blog post that reminded you of that person, but if you must hit up the powers of Google for talking fodder, so be it. A breezy “Hey, saw this and thought of you” email, along with a few thoughts on the article and anything particularly relevant, can be a great starting point with a newer contact.
- Nominate a referral source – Awards opportunities are plentiful in most fields, both from local or regional business groups or publications and from industry organizations. The nominations are usually open, too. If a contact of yours does something praiseworthy, don’t hesitate to throw their hat in the ring for an appropriate award. Service organizations are a great place to begin. Even if he or she doesn’t win, chances are he or she will be notified of the nomination. Who doesn’t like to be recognized for hard work and service?
- Give relationships time to grow – Rare is the relationship that flourishes into a deep connection after a single meeting. Rather, lasting connections are built upon a number of shared experiences and conversations. As an old saying goes, don’t pull up the daisies to see how the roots are growing! Be patient and let connections flourish in time, providing your networking partner with the time to reflect on your conversations, common ground, and complementary experiences.