People have been craving connection since the beginning of time. Meeting new people, learning more about them and finding ways to help one another are all parts of who we are, and business networking is a big part of that. It’s become a primary component of how people do business, promoting their products and services, and seeking partners for various business ventures.
However, business networking is about more than just being present. As this Entrepreneur article puts it, business networking is about being proactive. The author, Ivan Misner, founded BNI, an international business networking organization, and points out that even though networking sounds like an easy way to find new connections, “it can be a deceptively complex process.”
To look at the purpose of business networking today, though, we need to take a look at how it started.
Back to the Beginning: Basic Networking
Many sources cite business networking as a relatively new concept, becoming popular in the second half of the twentieth century, and really picking up in the later years. Prior to the industrial revolution, the country was mostly agrarian, and while most people didn’t have as wide a network as those today do, they still made meaningful connections that improved their personal and professional lives. From the basic trading of goods and services to finding new employees to help in their home-based businesses, farmers were able to expand their practices by connecting with their neighbors.
Across the Pond
While most early Americans were finding ways to connect and work together, in eighteenth-century England, various businesses began forming networks for capital and credit. As business and banking leaders began increasing their trust of each other and working together to benefit each other, systems of values began to emerge.
The individuals who were connecting found closer ties not only across their professional lives, but also in personal lives. People found common threads in their religious, political, cultural and charitable activities; these similarities led to an even deeper trust. In short, as people got to know each other better, the began to trust each other more, which improved their business connections and growth.
Business Networking Back Home
While England was an early adopter of business networking, it started to catch on in the mid- twentieth century, when employment and workplace equity and equality began to rise to the top as critical trends. From groups based on race, gender, and profession, to groups that are centered on age or even outside hobbies, networking began to grow.
Chambers of commerce began to grow, sprouting from its formation in 1912 in Washington, D.C. These groups began creating sub-groups based on a variety of interests. Meetings of businesses focused on kids, seniors, pets, and other niche genres were formed. Some groups started meeting early in the morning, kicking off their day by meeting new people, while others began groups after the workday is over.
Either way, these groups provided valuable venue for prospective networkers to meet others. Members arrived armed with business cards and cups of coffee, and began opening conversations with new connections or acquaintances.
Twenty-First Century Connecting
Today, face-to-face networking is still a valuable marketing and sales tool. From 30-second elevator pitches to informal get-togethers, professionals from all walks of life have still found that in-person meetings with local members of the business community have been beneficial for their expansion and growth. While some may call it schmoozing, the quality of the connection is the most important part of the networking process, setting aside dedicated time to meet qualified connections.
As Misner wrote in the Entrepreneur article, networking should be “strategic and focused…You have total control over whom you meet, where you meet them and how you develop and leverage relationships for mutual benefit.”
This applies to online networking, as well. Platforms liked LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest are becoming popular sites for people to congregate and connect.
- LinkedIn is primarily focused on employment, housing users’ resumes and other career details that they find important. Organizations can publicize job openings, people from various fields can form connections, and share information.
- Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, while more focused on users’ personal lives, allow users to connect with professional contacts and share their likes, dislikes, and hobbies. People can form new bonds, deepen their relationships, and see greater trust, which translates into better business connections.
While many people are spending more time on the Internet, with connections both getting wider and deeper, online networking enhances the value that face-to-face meetings can bring to your business. As corporations and organizations continue to grow, business networking will be a regular and necessary part of their expansion.
I’d like to take this special opportunity to invite you to book your free consultation. I’d love to explore the opportunity of working together. So go ahead and do that now! You’ll be glad you did.