Never Eat Alone is the title of a book written by Keith Ferrazzi. In it, he lays out specific steps and the mindset to reach out to thousands of friends, colleagues, and associates he has helped and who have helped him. Ferrazzi maintains that what separates successful people from others is how they use the power of their relationships. Ferrazzi is a “super-connector,” and his book offers good insight and techniques to build a network of relationships.
Never Eat Alone is a good read and highlights an underused business skill. I always understood that relationships were essential to doing business. However, it wasn’t until the late 1990’s that I understood the value of networking as a business strategy.
In 1998 I was introduced to the energetic Donna Willon by an accounting associate, Bruce Maybank. Donna started a company called Focused Networking in 1994 in Vancouver. The only way to interact with other businesspeople and professions was through the Chamber of Commerce, Toastmasters, or service clubs. By the time I met Donna, she had established networking groups across the Lower Mainland.
What set Focused Networking apart was her belief that people did business with people they knew and liked. Her groups met once a week, usually for breakfast. We were encouraged to get to know the other members in the group by meeting one-on-one outside the weekly meetings and sharing information. The exchange of leads among members was not forced but evolved as people knew and trusted each other. Donna would also host main events where we could meet members from other groups. As a consequence of this strategy, she has helped foster many long-term business relationships and friendships.
I learned that networking was not attending an event with other businesspeople and exchanging business cards but developing relationships through regular contact and being open to help other people without the expectation of something in return. The biblical saying “You reap what you sow” is so true in building a business network. Ferrazzi’s book is spot on when he states that success comes from staying in touch, willingness to help, and not being afraid to ask for what you need. People love to help people they like.
Meeting Donna Willon was a significant turning point in my career. I was pivoting after a very tough and acrimonious business relationship. Through Focused Networking, I forged long-lasting relationships that helped my cash-flow financing business and met my partners who formed the Westcap Business Center’s consulting practice. My connections lead to becoming President of Uniserve Communication Corporation and my current position as President of HealthSpace Data Systems Ltd., and the opportunities keep coming.
Networking has nothing to do with being aggressive or a prolific lead generator or meeting as many people as possible. It is all about building relationships. Building relationships takes time and commitment, and the rewards can be significant. Unfortunately, the pandemic has hampered our ability to meet one on one. Video calls are a poor substitute. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction. As the pandemic restrictions fade away, consider relationship-building networking as a strategy to build great connections that could be the catalyst to propel your business to new heights.