What Does it Mean to Network?

As a new (or even established) direct seller, you may have heard of the importance of networking.  But I wonder if we make assumptions when it comes to what this actually means.  Do you know what networking is, and why you should do it?  Does networking mean an immediate sale?  Is it a fast way to build your business?  What is the point?

Let’s start with a definition.  Dictionary.com defines networking, a noun, as “a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.”  So when you network, you are sharing ideas, information, and services with others who have similar interests to you.

In this article, I’m going to discuss WHY we network, HOW it will help your business, and WHERE you can network successfully.

Success in direct sales comes when you have access to a large number of leads that have an interest in your products and opportunity.  Many direct sellers start their businesses through family and friends, but once those leads are exhausted, you must find new leads.  This is where networking comes into play.  By finding people who know the people that are interested in your products and opportunity, you can continue to build your business in a profitable way.  Think about it this way: if you are a party plan consultant, you need to find hostesses who will host parties for you.  In turn, these hostesses will invite people to their parties that are interested in your products, and perhaps your opportunity.  So the hostess is someone who knows people that have interest in what you have to offer, resulting in sales and possibly recruiting.

However, if you want to rise from the pack, you should be thinking beyond the party.  It is not enough to simply book and recruit at parties, because not every party results in bookings, and not every party holds.  If you want to have more control over your business, then you need access to as many leads as possible.  Networking is a great way to do this.  You should be participating in networking opportunities as often as possible (but at least 2-4 times/month) to increase your access to an ever-growing group of people.

How do you find networking events?  You should join your local chamber of commerce and participate in their mixers.  Look up other business events in your local paper and websites, and participate there too.  Ask other direct sellers what events they participate in.  And join your local Direct Selling Women’s Alliance chapter, and take advantage of the opportunities provided there.  If you have other great in-person networking venues, please comment below and share these.

What should you do at networking events?  Networking events are an arena where information is shared between interested people.  Notice I didn’t say that you’re walking around handing out your catalog and telling everyone what you do.  Information is SHARED.  Let’s go back to the Dictionary.com definition of networking again: “a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.”  If you are at a chamber of commerce event, for example, people are there to find information to help them build their businesses.  So think about what has worked for you in building your business, and be ready to share.  You might be able to share good business printing contacts, excellent accounting services for home-based business owners, or tips on how to hold a great home party.  By walking into these events with an attitude of giving, you set yourself up as a trusted resource that your contacts will be willing to tell others about.  So think about what useful information you have, and be prepared to share it with others as you network.

Then, when the people you connect with know someone that needs your services, they will be more willing to tell that person about you and your business, because you’ve created a useful connection.

This same attitude of networking can easily be translated to an online arena.  The whole point of online social networking is the flow of information.  Take some time and watch the most well-followed people on twitter.  And I’m not talking about the celebrities.  I mean the people who have made online social networking an art, and are using the medium to its maximum effectiveness.  What do they do?  They share links to online articles and helpful products.  They blog about topics that are of interest to their followers.  They answer questions and provide guidance.  They BUILD COMMUNITY.  And because of this, people are more than willing to trust them when they make a recommendation.

The beauty of online networking is how much further your message can reach.  There are no geographic limitations when you network online.

Now think about how this can translate to your direct sales business.  First, you must decide how to position yourself in an online community.  Some of this may depend on your product.  If you sell skincare, you may want to position yourself as an expert on how to look younger, sharing expert opinions and advice.  If you sell educational products, you may want to share links and information about how to help kids in school.

Decide how you want to be positioned, and then plan your online networking strategy by finding followers/friends who are interested in the type of information you will be sharing.  On Twitter, do a search on keywords related to your topic, and then follow people who are discussing the topic you want to share about.  Often they will follow you back.  On Facebook, find friends who are interested in your topic, and ask them to become your friend.  Be sure to provide contact info between Facebook and Twitter so that your friends who follow you one site can follow you on both. (Facebook provides a bit more leverage in terms of how you can present your message.)

Once you have provided information, listen to your followers.  Find out what they are looking for, what they need.  Then, you can offer your products and opportunity from a position of meeting their needs instead of being pushy.  And your offer will be a lot more well-received.

Networking is not always something that works overnight in terms of sales.  It takes time, it takes research, and it takes a willingness to give.  But the network of people that you build will be a network from which you can draw new hostesses, new customers, and new recruits.  And that is a powerful foundation on which to build your business.

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