Ivan Misner once spent one week on Necker Island – the tony 74-acre island in the British Virgin Islands that is entirely owned by billionaire Sir Richard Branson – because he met a guy at a convention.
And Misner is really good at networking.
“I stayed in touch with the person, and when there was an opportunity, I got invited to this incredible ethics program on Necker where I had a chance to meet Sir Richard. It all comes from building relationships with people,” said Misner, founder and chairman of BNI (Business Network International), a 32-year-old global business networking platform based in Charlotte, N.C., that has led CNN to call him “the father of modern networking.”
The why doesn’t matter most, Misner said. A person’s approach to networking, regardless of the hoped-for outcome, should always remain the same.
“The two key themes that I would address would be the mindset and the skill set,” he said.
The mindset is making sure one’s approach doesn’t “feel artificial,” Misner said.
“A lot of people, when they go to some kind of networking environment, they feel like they need to get a shower afterwards and think, ‘Ick, I don’t like that,’” Misner said. “The best way to become an effective networker is to go to networking events with the idea of being willing to help people and really believe in that and practice that. I’ve been doing this a long time and where I see it done wrong is when people use face-to-face networking as a cold-calling opportunity.”
Instead, Misner suggests, approach networking like it is “more about farming than it is about hunting.” Cultivate relationships with time and tenacity and don’t just expect them to be instant. Once the approach is set, Misner has a process he calls VCP – visibility, credibility, and profitability.
“Credibility is what takes time,” he said. “You really want to build credibility with somebody. It doesn’t happen overnight. People have to get to know, like, and trust you. It is the most time consuming portion of the VCP process... then, and only then, can you get to profitability. Where people know who you are, they know what you do, they know you’re good at it, and they’re willing to refer a business to you. They’re willing to put you in touch with other people.”
But even when a relationship gets struck early on, networking must be more than a few minutes at an SHM conference, a local chapter mixer, or a medical school reunion.
It’s the follow-up that makes all the impact. Misner calls that process 24/7/30.
Within 24 hours, send the person a note. An email, or even the seemingly lost art of a hand-written card. (If your handwriting is sloppy, Misner often recommends services that will send out legible notes on your behalf.)
Within a week, connect on social media. Focus on whatever platform that person has on their business card, or email signature. Connect where they like to connect to show the person you’re willing to make the effort.
Within a month, reach out to the person and set a time to talk, either face-to-face or via a telecommunication service like Skype.
“It’s these touch points that you make with people that build the relationship,” Misner said. “Without building a real relationship, there is almost no value in the networking effort because you basically are just waiting to stumble upon opportunities as opposed to building relationships and opportunities. It has to be more than just bumping into somebody at a meeting... otherwise you’re really wasting your time.”
Misner also notes that the point of networking is collaboration at some point. That partnership could be working on a research paper or a pilot project. Or just even getting a phone call returned to talk about something important to you.
“It’s not what you know or who you know, it’s how well you know each other that really counts,” he added. “And meeting people at events like HM17 is only the start of the process. It’s not the end of the process by any means, if you want to do this well.”