“Your network is your net worth”, said John C. Maxwell, author of the bestseller Becoming A Person Of Influence. Currently 60 to 80 per cent of job positions are filled through networking and word of mouth.

Business owners who connect with their clients using multiple platforms consistently get the most business. Even attaining a Master of Business Administration is no guarantee of success in today’s tough economy. The richest and most successful people in the business world make a concerted effort to master the fine art of networking.

While the practice of networking is not new, it has become a sophisticated art. An adept networker stands head and shoulders above those who are still fumbling in the scene. Here are the finer points of networking:

Radiate positivity

Everyone likes to do business with someone who is enthusiastic and optimistic. There are some who attend networking events and complain about the air-conditioning, the food, the sound system, the crowd, the emcee and just about everything.

Instead of quibbling, they should approach the event organiser to at least thank him for taking the time and effort to plan the event or offer constructive feedback.

To be respected within your networks, you need to present yourself with a degree of enthusiasm. Engage with people around you with a cheerful, easygoing spirit. Once you have done an effective job of selling yourself, you will be able to reap the rewards of seeing your contacts promote you to others. Word of mouth is a powerful yet underrated marketing tool.

Be helpful

People generally don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. If you take the initiative to give, participate and contribute, benefits will come back to you in some way, though they may not necessarily come back immediately from the same person.  In fact, sometimes they come back from totally unexpected sources.

Here are some ways to be of value to others:

•  Introduce people to others you know;

•  Recommend products and services that have benefited you;

•  Share information you have learnt through your success and failures;

•  Provide feedback on ideas;

•  Provide encouragement; and

•  Share your knowledge and expertise.

Helping others can be done in a variety of ways, from helping with an office move, to clipping a relevant and useful report and mailing it to an associate or client. These days, this can be done easily via Facebook or WhatsApp.

Be appreciative

Gratitude is rare in today’s business world. Expressing gratitude to business associates and clients alike is another building block in the cultivation of relationships that will lead to increased referrals.

People like to refer contacts to business professionals who go above and beyond. Thanking others at every opportunity will help you stand out from the crowd. 

Educate and reinforce

Networking is a learnt behaviour, much like learning to swim. If you are serious about it, you cannot take breaks from honing your craft.

The process takes you through a gradual and sometimes difficult experience, lots of trial and error, and finally a breakthrough.

Most people are not born networkers — it does not come naturally to them. Schools do not adequately equip us to be savvy networkers. However, you can arm yourself with the right attitude, education, training, exposure and lots of practice.

To get there, you need to read books, listen to audio materials, attend seminars, talk to notable networkers, identify and keep up with a mentor, actively participate in networking groups, and apply what you have learnt. It requires a little humility and lots of perseverance.

Get carded

All professionals need the tools of their trade to conduct their business. An effective networker needs to have his tools at hand: a name tag to identify him to others, card holders to carry his business cards, and card files to carry other people’s business cards.

You need to let people you meet know who you are and what you do. Show them you mean business. Your business cards, the most basic of all networking tools, are one of the least expensive forms of advertising — so don’t leave home or office without them. 

Network all the time

Diligent networkers are never “off-duty”. Networking is so natural to them that they can be found networking in the grocery store line, at the doctor’s surgery and while picking the kids up from school, as well as at the chamber mixers and networking meetings. In other words, be prepared to network in season and out of season.

Final words of wisdom

Networking, like a work of art, cannot be rushed or forced — it requires focus and it takes time to develop successful and mutually beneficial relationships.

Take advantage of every opportunity you have to learn to network more effectively. Networking can add fullness to your personal, social, and professional life. As self-help author Robert Kiyosaki observed: “The richest people in the world build networks. Everyone else looks for work.” So flex those networking muscles today.

Article by Mervin Yeo, a contributing author in Masters Of Networking. He trains, consults with and coaches business professionals and organisations in Singapore and the region on purposeful networking and strategic referral marketing. He recently published an e-book, Purposeful Networking For Introverts. For more information, visit http://mervinyeo.com