How to Network for Business

If you want to know how to network for business, copy politicians.

Kid President.

If you are clueless when it comes to knowing how to network for business, well, listen up.

Imagine for a second that you are a politician running for office.

If a budding politician wants to run for political office, the very first thing they need to do is focus on raising money.

Usually this means marching down to whatever local city or county office keeps the lists of donors to their particular party, and get their hands on that list.

Once you have your hands on this list, then the next step is to get to know as many of the people on those donor lists as possible.

Befriend them. Take them to lunch. Get to know their spouses, their children. Woo them off their feet.

During my years working in politics, I advised many newbie political candidates, and that was always my advice: get your hands on a list of donors and become friends with as many of them as you can. As soon as possible.

Like, yesterday.

What does this have to do with networking in business?

To Be a Rock Star Networker, Think Like a Politician

In business, the lessons are very similar. If you want to move your business or your career forward, you have to think like a politician. If you want to know how to network for business, think like you’re running for office.

There is no city or county office where you can go get a list of people to network with, so you’ll have to put together your own list of “donors” — your own list of people who are already active and involved in your chosen field.

Let’s say you want to start a software company. Then you need a list of VCs, software startup founders, coaches, software engineers, and other people who are already active and involved in the software world. These are the people you will want to get to know.

If you were building a software company, which do you think would be the best networking strategy:

  1. Depend on relationships that develop randomly – i.e. friends from college, people from past jobs, people you meet through your kids’ school, etc.
  2. Rely on existing family and friends to get your software company started and to grow it.
  3. Create a proactive networking plan to pursue and nurture relationships with other people who are already active and involved in the software industry

The answer, of course, is #3. Unfortunately, too many people rely on 1 and 2, rather than creating a proactive plan to pursue and nurture relationships with the right kinds of people.

How to Create Your Networking Plan

Unlike the world of politics, you’ll probably need to create this list of people to network with on your own. That will take some brainstorming and creativity.

Once you have your list, step two is you need to get to know as many of the people on your list as possible.

This is the exact path Steve Jobs followed when he was launching Apple. When Jobs and his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak were trying to grow their little startup out of Jobs’ parents’ garage, did they focus their efforts simply on networking with family and friends? No.

Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson wrote that Jobs focused on getting to know other computer hobbyists, computer store owners, and software engineers in the early days of Apple. He got to know people who were already active and involved in the computer industry, and they in turn helped get Apple off the ground. Jobs’ time spent getting to know those people was time well spent.

Most people don’t create a list of people they want to network with, so their networking ends up being random and haphazard. That’s not a good strategy for any career or business.

Let’s break this down even further, into five concrete steps. Here are the five basic steps for how to network for business:

Step 1. Put Together Your List

The first step is to brainstorm a list of the people who you see value in getting to know better. In the Power Networking System, I advise people to start by brainstorming a list of 50+ people — these could be people who you’ve met already, people you haven’t met, former clients or customers, current clients or customers, people you admire, or leaders in your industry, etc.

I refer to this list as your “Conversations List” because you should think of it as a list of 50+ people who you want to have a rolling, ongoing conversation with. I find that thinking about it in this way takes some of the pressure off, especially for building a relationship with the very successful people who are on your list.

Step 2: Ditch the “Me First” Attitude and Make Some Friends

The next step is to forget about trying to get something from others and start thinking about how you can start helping others, just like you would help a friend. Develop genuine relationships — but do it with people who can be helpful to your career or business, of course.

If you had just transferred to a new high school, you wouldn’t immediately approach other students and ask for a ride, or money for lunch, or a date to the prom, would you? No. You would start by making friends. Follow that approach in business.

Step 3: Be Professional, But Be Human

One of the biggest mistakes I see people making in networking is they sanitize themselves too much. They become a watered down, Applebee’s version of themselves.

No one likes Applebee’s. No one.

I think people should insert more of their personality into their professional lives, not less.

When I was a speechwriter working in politics, I had a boss who taught me that you don’t need to water down your personality to be taken seriously.

He was one of the smartest people I knew and a great writer, and yet everyone also knew he was also a huge jokester, a major college basketball fan and could quote lines from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Someone who was less secure in their own intelligence and abilities might have chosen not to share some of these more silly aspects of their personality.

I learned that it’s possible to be taken seriously and to let your personality out at the same time.

Politics and government can have a very stuffy and conservative atmosphere, so if he could do it there, then you can probably let out a bit of your personality in whatever industry you are in.

Step 4: Deepen Relationships

Your goal should be to continually deepen relationships with people on your Conversations List.

You know that saying, “the easiest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”? Well, I believe the key to a networking partner’s heart is through their immediate family members.

At most networking events, people talk about work-related or industry-related subjects. The next time you go to a face-to-face networking event, distinguish yourself by asking about a person’s spouse or family, if you get the right opportunity. (If not, people might just think you’re a weirdo for asking about their family out of context.)

When you talk with someone about their family, you get to know them a lot better and I’ve found, they are much more likely to light up. They will have a positive association with you because you took interest in their family.

Step 5: Derive Financial Benefit from Relationships

We’re talking about business here, so there needs to be some financial payoff. Without a financial benefit, then we’re just talking about charity. So you have to make the transition from relationships to revenue.

I know a lot of people who are good at networking because they have a charming personality, but they are bad at making the final step — turning those relationships into something that financially beneficial to them.

That means you have to draw the line, even with close friends or people who you admire or look up to, and let them know there’s a line over which you can’t go any further without charging them for your work.

You deserve to be compensated, so there’s no reason to be ashamed by this.

Start Now

I like to wrap up these posts with something concrete you can do today. You can start by creating your own Conversations List of 50+ people who you would like to get to know better.

Finally, what tips do you have for networking in business? What do you do that helps you to deepen relationships? What do you struggle with when it comes to networking? Let me know in the comments.

You may also enjoy these other posts on networking:

Photo credit: Kid President



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  5. jlware5000 says:

    What what does that look like… drawing the line… and by look I mean what do I say? Better yet how do I say it without first feeling used when the ask for charity and second I feel like calling them on being a cheap bastard.

  6. Amy Johnson says:

    I need to work on all of these! Starting my list will be the first thing i do to get things moving. I am a social media manager and i am looking to gain new clients.

  7. My tip is… Just to be really, deeply curious about what other people are doing.

    I’m really surprised when people are meeting someone new and don’t ask about their job. And even when they do, they don’t follow up with question “what exactly you do?” or ” what your typical working day look like?”. The second questions is useful when theirs job is from completely different field than ours.

    Be just curious. Ask people about their work with genuine interest. Not interrogation. Curiosity.

  8. I don’t even know exactly how this email ended up in my inbox however I enjoyed the message and it rings true. I’ve long yearned for more opportunities to be apprised of what peers have a) Done, b) Are doing and c) What they are striving to do. This email validates that feeling. Thank you.

  9. annec224 says:

    I’am sure I will enjoyed to discute with you, thank for the email

  10. am trying to start my own business but am having some challenges that i could not see. thanks.

  11. Faith Singer says:

    Great article! I can’t wait to put into play what you’ve outlined. Thank you!

  12. Dr Fred says:

    I’ve done all these things for many years. What amazes me is how little reciprocity I’ve seen. The vast majority of these folks take without thought of giving back, ever!

    What is a reasonable return to expect from these efforts? What suggestions do you have for ensuring that we do not just waste a ton of time doing things for others? That is nice to do, but doesn’t build a business.

    I’ve done so much to help so many people with little or no return that I now separate my voluntary giving activities from doing things for influential people in hopes that they will reciprocate. It has been much more effective for me to find people who have a need for what I do – right now – and sell to them. The other path has just been too long and ineffective.

    Your suggestions?

    • That’s strange Fred because I’ve had the opposite result. Are you reaching too high up? Are you just doing one or two nice things and then moving on? Some of my strongest relationships took years to develop. Literally years of consistently following up and being of value and of service. Oftentimes people give up too easily or too soon.

  13. I see this post has been around for a while, and there are some great replies and questions that are also a good read here in the comments section already. Recently I started building an audience in a new niche and it’s been growing organically very nicely over the past few months, but until now, I never had the idea to specifically create a list of people in that industry and intentionally network with them. Thanks for this timeless bit of advice – now I’m creating my list!

    • Thanks Douglas – I made the same mistake for quite awhile and it wasn’t until I really identified the people who I should be connecting with that things took off for me with this blog and my podcast.

  14. Ruby Shiv says:

    “The answer, of course, is #3. Unfortunately, too many people rely on 1 and 2, ” I thought you are just telling me on face what I’m doing wrong 🙂 These tips were very much needed ,thanks John

  15. Michelle Ngome says:

    Anytime I go through a transition with my business I create a networking plan to remain strategic and effecient in my new direction.

  16. J Michael Blair says:

    Thanks for sharing suggestions about networking and the importance of first building a list of those with whom I would like to be better acquainted. I have started to work on that list, but I am finding some difficulty getting focused on exactly who “the right people” are, as I’m entering a market I know little about. But I am certain I have a product that can be profoundly useful to those I am able to reach in order to let them know it is available for them to use.

    • Hey Michael – if you have a product, then ask yourself – WHO are the people who have helped you to sell it so far? Who are the best referral sources that have led to the most sales?

  17. James Gadson says:

    I believe that my struggle is actually initiation to networking.. after reading this article I see glimpses of what your saying in my life and things I need to begin doing. I have a desire to develop deeper relationships with others but it seems to stop at just initiation and I lose the rest in my own doubt and insecurity.

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