Sunday, May 18, 2008

Networking as Caring

I'm realizing more and more the power of networking for selling books. It especially hit home to me this weekend.

I attended a Webinar Thursday night by book marketing guru Brian Jud on Networking. I didn't set out to have a networking weekend, but it certainly turned out that way. Perhaps I was just more aware of what was going on because of the seminar.

Friday night, Cherie and I traveled an hour north to the little town of Dalton, to celebrate a friend's college graduation. We weren't going to network; we were simply honoring a friend. When we got there, we weren't "working the room;" we were trying to spend time with as many people as we could. Someone introduced us to a person who was filling the pulpit for their church. I'd wanted to meet the fellow, since I'd heard that we had some things in common. I think we were a good contact for him since he was toying with getting more into writing. Then he introduced his girlfriend. I politely asked what she did and she responded,

"I work at Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters in PR."

"Funny thing," I said. "I've been thinking that Wal-Mart might like to carry my new book on finances, especially since I mention Sam Walton (Wal-Mart's founder) in the book in some very positive ways (good PR for Wal-Mart)."

She went on to explain to me how to get in touch with the people that make those buying decisions for Wal-Mart, encouraged me to speak to the manager of my local Wal-Mart, and gave me other invaluable, insider tips. She gave me her card and I filed it away in my new networking notebook. "What an incredible contact!" I told Cherie afterwards. "What if Wal-Mart decided to carry my book!

Saturday afternoon I took Paul and David (my middle school twins) to Trade-N-Play, where they trade video games. I always chat with the owner and ask him questions, because he's simply a nice guy and has great wisdom about business and life. I mentioned my latest book on finances for young people and he was thrilled!

"Sure, I'd love to take a look at it and consider selling it in my store," he responded. He was full of stories about his concerns about people overspending and ruining their financial lives. His young associate heard our excitement and wanted to know if he could get a copy to review as well.

If he takes it and it sells well, isn't it possible that the entire chain would consider carrying it?

Today, Sunday, Cherie reconnected with a college buddy at church, who had a friend with her. I asked the friend what she did, and she responded that she was entering the art department at KSU. I asked if she liked to doodle and draw cartoon characters, since I was considering a short cartoon series to go along with my book. She did that type drawing and was thrilled at the prospect. We traded cards.

Now these are three remarkable contacts made in three days by a guy who doesn't get out much, since I care for my ailing dad and 102-year-old granny. Any one of these contacts could easily lead to significant book sales. It caused me to reflect on the power and principles of networking. Some stray thoughts:

#1 - Always, always carry business cards and a pen. I didn't have a card in Dalton. Fortunately, others were better networkers than me, offering their cards. You never know who you'll run across.

#2 - Never forget that some of your greatest contacts are neighbors down the street, people sitting next to you at church, the person pumping iron next to you in the gym, the teen taking your order at Arby's. You don't have to hop a flight to the convention in LA to start networking. It's a lot cheaper to welcome your new neighbor with a batch of peanut butter cookies.

#3 - Always take a genuine interest in other people. I didn't go to any of these meetings to get something. I didn't meet them in order to see if they had something to offer. I went to Dalton to honor a friend. I went to Trade-N-Play to be with my kids. I went to church to worship God.

#4 - Get used to asking simple questions of people, like
  • "What do you do for a living?"
  • "What do you do for fun?"
After they respond, ask them more about these areas of interest, like:
  • What fascinates you about that job or activity?
  • How long have you been doing that?
As simple as this seems, very few people do it. Very, very few ask me about my work and interests. Consumed with their own world and concerns, they can't seem to take an interest in other people's world and concern. And they miss out on so much fun in the process!

Don't feign friendship to make a contact. People can smell a selfish phony a mile away. I really care about those people. That's why I ask about their lives rather than spout off about my own life.

Genuine caring sprinkles pixie-dust on casual conversations, transforming them into into something magical. Fascinating things bubble up - connections I never imagined, ideas that that change my course, services I was looking for.

I read a marketing professional lately who stated something like, "Networking is simply a new term for an old practice that we used to call caring."

Well put.

As we care enough to find out about other people's interests and find ways to serve them, we find the ideas and connections we need to move forward with our own interests. Sounds strikingly similar to "give and you shall receive," a biblical concept that proves its worth anew in each generation.

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