Saturday, 9 March 2013
My father's friend does $3 million in annual turnover. About 90% of this turnover comes from supplying and installing electrical lighting to shopping centers, office parks and other private sector related projects.
Two weeks ago he drove 35 kilometers after-hours to a household that was going to give him about $500 of business. It's insignificant to his bottom line yet for most of these small jobs he still opts to go by himself instead of sending out a staff member. The reason for this is the networking opportunities these small jobs present.
He doesn't care that the current deal is small; he wants to leave a good taste in the customer's mouth so that they will remember him whenever the topic of lighting comes up in any of their conversations. He will even do a free consult before physically delivering anything to advise what sort of light fittings would suit a given room and budget. Over 28 years he has built his network this way. Today's deal could be small, but tomorrow's referral could be life-changing.
Most people aren't born into the right circles. It helps to have a well-known prominent father who can elbow you into an influential circle or network, but:
1) Members of any network, while partial towards each other, are not perfectly loyal to each other. People who belong to a group are still just people: they're looking for the best value for money and the best possible service. Many will venture outside their circle if that's where the best deal is to be found.
2) Your network can and probably will be built one person at a time. Through individual kind acts you can build your own inner circle based on meritocracy rather than birthright. The effects of a kind act are compounded through word of mouth.
A single kind act can be more powerful than membership to an old boys' club or invitation to a contrived networking event. Further to this imagine if everybody who complained that they did not belong to the "right" clique pooled their resources, smarts and influence together. The power of a network lies in many people agreeing to act in an organized fashion: they leverage each other.
Most people who are "outsiders" act individually rather than in unison. The encouraging news is that there's nothing to stop like-minded people from forming their own networks. Modern day conveniences like mobile communication, crowdsourcing and social media make it that much easier. Thanks to these tools, no question will go unanswered and no request will go unfulfilled (if you persist enough). Old money will continue to exist and hold advantages, but nothing stops those on the outside from aligning with each other. "Outsiders" in business must leverage each other rather than make things difficult by going it alone.
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