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Michael Hughes: The true Art to Successful Networking

December 8, 2011

Rick Spence, published an article this week on the Financial Post site after attended a seminar by Michael Hughes- known as North America’s top networking guru. Rick tells us how Michael sees networking as a planned business process, about nurturing relationships rather than just making sales. Here Rick Spence tells us more about the insightful seminar from Michael Hughes. 

When Michael Hughes began his new career as an independent marketing consultant in Ottawa, he was like a lot of business professionals turned entrepreneurs: He wanted to do the work, not the selling.

“I kept thinking that as soon as I found the right sales manager, things would go great,” he says. Ten years later, he’s changed his tune. “Now I’m comfortable being a sales professional. No one can sell you like you.”

That could be his mantra. Today Hughes is known as North America’s top networking guru, offering keynotes, seminars and coaching on the fine art of personal networking. I recently sat in one of Hughes’ full-day seminars, and found it eye-opening. Most of the business people I know say they’re no good at networking, and now I believe them: The way Hughes tells it, there’s a lot more to strategic networking than small-talking people at business functions and handing them your business card.

Hughes views networking as a holistic business process, a range of activities and skills that are carefully planned and honed. For instance, you have to understand what business you are in, and how you create value, and you have to be able to articulate how you create results for your clients. Without that, all the charm and charisma in the world won’t save you when you go to networking events.

Networking isn’t about selling. It’s about launching and nurturing relationships. And it’s not about handing out your business card. It’s about getting other people’s cards, and having a strategy for following up that will convince them of your professionalism, competence and sincere personal interest.

Hughes defines networking as “the intentional process of creating and developing relationships, from initial contact to ultimate outcome.” Now, I began to understand why Hughes’ session takes a full day.

One of his key tenets is an insight gained early in his business-development career: You have to have a target market. You can’t just go around to random events hoping to connect with people who need your products or skills. You have to target groups that are flush with those kinds of people. Then you have to make one group a priority — say, an industry association — and burrow in deep. Attend all the meetings and events you can, and get to know everyone involved.

In Hughes’s case, he was targeting a general business audience — so what better market than the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce? To build his business, he spent so much time on chamber activities he became chair of the organization — a multi-year crusade he says laid the groundwork for his success. “You need to be part of your community,” he says. “Do this by design, not default.”

Hughes used his experience to devise a multi-step plan for leveraging your prime networking group:

Leverage your network’s network Ask friends and acquaintances what other networks they belong to and ask to go along. “You have to have a network mindset,” he says — the fundamental point of which seems to be that all networks are interconnected.

Develop a free talk Hughes’ most successful sales tool turned out to be the free presentations (e.g., “The five top networking mistakes”) he created and would present anywhere, to anybody, on request. Don’t use your talk to sell, use it to give away your best stuff to demonstrate your value, he says. “Focus your talk on value, and people will be drawn to you.”

Contribute to the group’s success Look for an area of “need, interest or value” to the organization and a way to participate that will make a difference. Take on a leadership role — one that’s aligned with your professional capacity.

At the Ottawa chamber, Hughes took responsibility for welcoming new members. He created free quarterly introductory sessions for new recruits, making sure “every new member got a piece of Michael Hughes.” That tactic alone, he says, produced two of the biggest contracts of his career.

Always ask for referrals Most of your business and referrals, he says, will come from the 5% of your contacts who matter most. So you have to identify these VIPS and focus most of your attention on them and their networks. “It’s not a shotgun strategy, but a laser strategy,” he says.

To prioritize your leads, Hughes suggests making a list of all the important contacts, clients and influencers in your business, and then rate them (from 1 to 10) according to key attributes: your level of comfort with each other; the amount of trust in your relationship; the potential of each individual (and their network) to your business objectives; and the amount of fun in your relationship.

The people with the highest composite scores are the high-value relationships you should focus on most. Get to know them better and develop a contact plan and follow-up strategy for each. Your goal is to build the relationship on three pillars: trust, value, and reciprocation. Before you can expect anyone to do anything for you — or even pay attention to you — you have to demonstrate your value to them.

Clearly, networking is harder work and involves more heavy thinking and planning than most of us realize. But it beats selling!

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