Have you ever met someone at a networking event who wants to meet so you can see how you can refer each other? Of course! It happens all the time. That’s what networking is supposedly all about. Well, I’d like to reframe that. I believe that the goal of networking is to get to know people so you can determine if you should be referring each other. And I think a lot of people skip this step.
Let’s be honest. When you first meet someone, you don’t know them. You don’t know their work, their business practices, their beliefs. I have a client who went to a networking event and met a woman there who she hit it off with. They decided to meet for coffee. At that meeting, the woman suggested they refer each other. Here’s the problem. My client checked the woman’s work (she’s a web designer) and didn’t like it. My client didn’t feel that the woman’s work was professional and appealing. How could she refer her? She can’t!
She likes the woman and doesn’t want to offend her, but what can she do? This scenario is played out every day all over the world. It’s played out for two reasons. 1. People jump ahead in the process. 2. People don’t have a set policy for how they handle networking. So, the solution is simple. Set a policy and keep to it. Once you have a policy in place it is easy to maintain a level of professionalism while doing your relationship building.
I like the 60 day policy. This policy states that you do not refer anyone you meet during networking for a minimum of 60 days. During that 60 days you work on the relationship. This gives both parties the opportunity to determine if they should be in a relationship. You may find that while you initially liked the person there is really nothing more to a possible relationship. Just like dating, you have to invest the time in order to know whether you want a casual relationship or something more serious. Another part of the policy should be a limit to the number of resources you maintain in any given field. For example, you can say that you like to keep 3 graphic designersin your toolbox. Then when you encounter someone with a need you can give them all three names and let them determine who they like.
This provides a buffer for you. If you get to know someone, like them, but not their work, this resource limit gives you a reason NOT to add them to the list.
These kinds of policies take the personal and the emotion out of the situation. It’s not about them – it’s about your business practices. You show up as a professional who takes every relationship seriously, whether it’s with a prospect, a client, or a referral partner. That professionalism keeps you out of trouble and elevates you in your network. And when you can state this policy easily and cleanly, it really becomes a part of your business structure.
One side note I’d like to mention is that you may find yourself quickly building a relationship with someone whose work, ethics, professionalism, and business practices you like. You may want to start referring tem before your time frame is up. That’s okay! Go ahead! The point is that you’ve established a system and are working it. You’ve given yourself time and space to realistically evaluate the other person. THAT’S what the policy allows you.
So, start with a 60 day policy and see how it works for you. You may decide to adjust it up or down. That’s okay. As long as you have some sort of program that you follow you’ll be in a better position. And if you come up with a policy that works really well feel free to share it with me. I’d love to be able to showcase other great ideas on my blog!