Guest article by Dr. Ivan Misner & Cindy Mount

There is no place that’s inappropriate for networking. But this is true only if you always remember and follow the number one rule: honour the event. For a master networker, networking is a lifestyle, and it’s something that can be incorporated into everything one does. But different events involve very different styles of networking. Networking at a chamber of commerce event is radically different from networking at a church social.

The first thing to understand is what we mean by networking. There’s a common misperception that networking is simply using one’s connections to sell products or services. This is an understandable error, and it arises because of the way some “networkers” seem to be constantly on the prowl for customers. This is the kind of networker most people can see coming a mile away and try hard to avoid meeting.

In our view, networking is a lifestyle, not a sales tool. It’s all about relationships. A true networker is one who constantly seeks to form new relationships and strengthen them by helping others solve problems and achieve goals. It’s not a totally unselfish lifestyle, of course; a networker knows that these relationships are two-way relationships that can be drawn upon to help achieve her own goals. But a master networker does not help others with the expectation that every person she helps will immediately reciprocate in kind.

A true networker is one who constantly seeks to form new relationships and strengthen them by helping others solve problems and achieve goals.

Networking is part of the process of developing social capital. It’s similar to a bank account. Every action you take on behalf of someone else builds your social capital account. The larger that account, the higher your expectation of receiving support and assistance when you need it. A substantial social capital account means that you are widely recognized as someone who is generous with his time and energy, who is the go-to person when problems arise, who can be trusted to behave intelligently and honourably.

In the widest sense, then, a good networker builds social capital by bringing a Givers Gain® mind-set to every activity she is involved in, to every event that she attends. Her primary motivation is to strengthen her relationships, and this rarely involves thinking, What can I sell this person? The event determines which aspects of the relationship are in play. You would never think of carrying on a business discussion with a networking partner at a solemn social event. However, the fact that you’re both attending the event means that you’re strengthening the relationship, which will make your business networking relationship stronger in the long run. Everything you do to help another person strengthens your relationship. Look for ways to help at every opportunity.

Can you network at a funeral? It sounds crass, but the answer is yes, if you honour the event. You don’t walk around handing out cards, of course, but you offer your help wherever you can see that it is needed. Does a relative of the deceased reveal concerns about inheritance taxes? In a respectful way, offer to call him tomorrow and refer him to a good estate attorney. Does an out-of-town visitor have a flat tire? Call your assistant and ask him to arrange for a quick repair. Seek only to help others; don’t even think of gaining advantage for yourself. Your sincerity will be remembered and appreciated. True networking is the process you use to develop relationships and build your social capital. Therefore, you may network anywhere—but you do so most effectively by honouring the event.

Called the father of modern networking, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times best selling author and Founder of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization. Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute, an international referral training company.

Co-author, Cindy Mount of Traicor International is an expert in Business Networking. She is a trainer for the “Street Smart Networker & Certified Networker” programs.