Five Steps to Begin Networking for Business Success

There's a saying to get ahead 'It's not what you know but who you know' and when building a new business 'It's how many people get to know you'. Recently the term 'white privilege' has been bandied about more than ever. It refers to many things but clearly to opportunities one has to achieve success through family, wealth, contacts and connections, built up over years and generations. It can matter who your family is; their business; what schools you went to; and what neighborhood you grew up in. These can all help achieve success in life.

Some believe using connections to get ahead is cheating. Others think connections are only something those with 'privilege' have. Reality is we all have the ability to make connections and build networks. Yes being rich, going to a fancy prep school and summering on Martha's Vineyard or the French Riviera may give you a leg-up on the rest of us; but being born to wealth and privilege isn't the only way, or even a guarantee of success. The rest of us just have to work a little harder but we can all get there.

There are many examples of those who didn't grow up with 'privilege' and became incredibly successful. Robert L. Johnson, founder of BET, "was born in Hickory, Mississippi, the ninth of ten children. His mother was a teacher and his father a farmer." Others like Ursula Burns, who became CEO of Xerox, is a first-generation American citizen and was raised in the housing projects of New York City. We all know Oprah Winfrey's story; being taunted for having to wear potato-sack dresses because of her poverty. You can achieve success no matter the conditions of your birth.

The question to ask yourself is how you can increase your odds of being successful? How do you overcome a background that may not have given you a host of built-in advantages? How do you focus in on the ways to build your own contacts and networks to help set your business or career on the road to success? Remember business success is measured in many ways. It can be wealth, personal happiness, the ability to give back to your community; you decide which are important to you.

Successful people understand all those measures can be enhanced by the contacts you make through networking, and through the people you share your life with every day. So take the time to think about what your personal measures of success are and consider with a laser-like focus what you need to do to accomplish them. One thing that will help no matter what your goals are is expanding your contacts and building a network of people who will help you to achieve them. Doing that can be fun. Consider the things you enjoy and begin there.

STEP 1: Become a 'joiner'. Once you determine the things you like to do, or the issues that concern you, get involved with others who care about the same things. It could be anything from joining a garden club; a political campaign; helping the homeless; joining a book club; a sports team; or some other community organization. All these activities give you the opportunity to meet new people and expand your networks for success.

STEP 2: Become a 'leader'. Once you get involved if you really want to be noticed and attract the most people to you become a leader. It is important to be a good listener, a good worker and be willing to speak up. Always being a 'back-bencher' may mean people don't think about you and you want them to. That is where being a leader can make a difference. Organize a meeting, run for office in the organization, or find another way to stand out.

STEP 3: Focus on 'Social Media'. In today's world the most successful people and businesses have a presence on social media. Facebook, Twitter or other platforms like LinkedIn allow you opportunities to share information about yourself, your business and your ideas. You can connect with a host of people you otherwise wouldn't get to know or meet in person.

STEP 4: Stay in touch. Once you have begun the process of joining and networking it is important to take the time to 'keep in touch' with the contacts you make. Everyone is busy so it is your responsibility to take the initiative if you want them to remember you and see you as someone valuable to know and introduce to others.

STEP 5: Be honest, trustworthy and positive. Networking is something that gets easier and easier once you begin. People will want to introduce you to their contacts and you then get to join their networks. But that will only happen if they perceive and see you as an honest and trustworthy person. Don't promise what you can't deliver; always be honest and up-front; keep any commitments you make; and present a positive image at all times. People are attracted to positive people.

Recently I had the opportunity to share these ideas with members of the Capital Hill Business Connection (CHBC), a business networking organization in the District of Columbia begun by Brian Goldthorpe, owner of Privileged Communications, a consulting firm specializing in crisis management. Brian understood what networking could do for his business and wanted to share the experience with others. CHBC's focus is on new business development referrals for the group's members. They include realtors, consultants, mortgage bankers, insurance agents, and even a professional photographer. One member, Tiffany Kendrick, has a firm called Your Expat Expert, specializing in preparing Americans for working overseas. Another Ross Yerger, CEO of The Yerger Group, is developing property in Belize and he told me "Members of the group have given his business serious consideration and new potential investor contacts." A huge additional benefit members of the group get along with networking is the open exchange of knowledge and expertise.

I was pleased when Goldthorpe told me "Your talk validated for many in the group their thoughts on the importance of networking and they all walked away with new ideas on how to expand their networks and make them more valuable." He shared with me since starting CHBC, "I've completed paid consulting jobs for five of my fellow group members who own businesses and other members can share the same success stories."

Networking for success isn't a new idea but it's one becoming more and more important as we celebrate the diversity of our nation and business community and want to even the playing field so everyone has the tools to succeed.