No matter how good you get, no matter how well you master your selling, negotiating, financial or whatever set of skills that have made (or are making) you successful, you cannot do it all alone. Somewhere along the line you will need a friend, a contact, an introduction, someone to urge you on or, just to have an understanding heart to listen to you. These are the primary reasons you need to build a network.
Many people think networks are only for high-level business professionals who use them to arrange special golf outings, front row tickets to sporting or cultural events, or to make special introductions. I hope you’re not one of those people.
The fact is that most people have networks; they just don’t keep very good track of them or they don’t use them as well as they could. A network is simply a group of people helping each other get to where each wants to go as quickly, as easily, and as efficiently as possible.
There are networks involving soccer moms, car pool groups, church organizations, social clubs, and community service groups. The most successful people in life and in business keep track of the people they meet through their various activities and build their own custom networks.
For those of us in the automotive F&I industry, whether we are a provider, an agent, a dealer or anyone in between, a network is a powerful way to get to qualified prospects and business liaisons in the least amount of time and with the least amount of difficulty. Beware not to think of networking in terms of receiving something from others: leads, prospects, customers, guidance, hints, techniques, or moral support. Start your network by first considering others.
Always remember this: Success is determined by the level of service you provide others, not by what others do to further your goals. Take some time to carefully examine what you have to offer someone in your network. What capabilities, skills, information, talents, connections, and words of wisdom can you provide that can help build someone else’s career? Almost everything is useful to someone.
For example, the fact that you’re on a first-name basis with the owner of the local service station, flower shop, or antique mall may be a valuable asset at some point to someone in your network. Just as links in a chain, you want to have a good, solid relationship with everyone in your network. A network is no good unless you work it. Treat your network as you would an expensive, finely-crafted instrument and it will provide you with enjoyment beyond your wildest dreams.
Here are six ideas for maintaining a strong network:
- Stay in touch. This one is pretty obvious, but it’s also where many average networkers fall down. When an interesting bit of information comes your way, don’t just evaluate it for yourself. Pass it along to others who may also benefit from it. Other ways to keep in touch include birthdays, business, or personal anniversaries. Dropping a card in the mail, sending one via e-mail, or making a quick call is easy compared with how much harder you’d have to work if you didn’t have this person’s knowledge and resources to draw from. Keep an eye out for others in the news. Send them the clipping or at least recognize that you saw them. Making others feel good strengthens your relationships. Go out of your way to share a meal with the key players in your network. These contacts don’t need to be lengthy or take on the appearance of an obligation; in fact, spontaneity often makes the contact more enjoyable. The point is to make the contact.
- Ask for help. If you’ve been good about staying in contact, don’t hesitate to seek support when you need it. People want to help others. Asking for assistance not only helps you but reinforces the fact that when the other party needs something, you’ll be there for them. When you ask for help, keep two things in mind:
- Say what you really mean. Phrase your request in words that allow the other party to understand your real needs. “We’ve just added a new line of whatchamacallits. Who do you know that may need a new one?” That’s a lot more effective than “Got any leads for me?”
- Be polite. “I need you to help me” may be a little strong and even border on being rude. Instead, say, “I’m in need of a little help and was wondering if you can spare a few moments” is warmer and less demanding.
- Volunteer to help. Become known for the excellence of your service. Believe me, people talk and your career is most definitely influenced by word-of-mouth advertising. Go out of your way to find ways to support your network. Don’t wait for someone to ask for your help. Make a point of contacting members of your network when you don’t need anything. Just check in to see if you can be of service to them. Even if there’s no particular need at that time, they’ll certainly appreciate the thought and you will have further cemented a valuable relationship.
- Follow up. If someone in your network provides you with a referred lead, handle it immediately. Then, get back to the referrer to let them know the outcome and thank them a second time.
- Maintain your focus. A network is a dynamic entity. Once or twice a year, evaluate the effectiveness of the people in your group to see if you need to add more support in a particular area. If you’re all give and get nothing back, you need to correct the situation or find new links for your network. The opposite holds true, too. Honestly evaluate your own effectiveness to the other group members as well.
- Make networking an integral part of your lifestyle. Don’t think of networking as an activity to be scheduled. A champion realizes that virtually every waking moment can offer an opportunity to use, build, or assist the network. Never hesitate to start a friendly conversation with someone. You never know where it may lead — to a prospect, a sale, or even a new valuable member of your network.
By making your network more successful, you make yourself more successful. As the individuals within the network grow, succeed and prospect, your range of contacts increases. Your connections with successful people connect you with an ever-growing circle of more successful people. The depth of your support group increases as does your access to more and more powerful resources.