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Friday, January 07, 2011

BNI: Organic Networking

A while back, I was holding a meeting with some of my Assistant Directors and we went around the table sharing what each person's dream client would be. Something specific. The type of client that would make your year, if you had the opportunity to earn their business. As we started sharing, I pushed for each to be more specific. Tell me which company. Tell me the name of the contact that you would love the introduction to - make your dream so clear, that every person at this table will walk away being able to share that dream referral with anyone they meet.

It began, one by one, specifically sharing the name of the contact, the company, all of the details that painted the picture of their dream clients. And so were planted the seeds of what were to become, for a few, their dreams transforming into a reality.

First, there was Diana (yes, I'm changing the names - it's part of adding mystery to the story :)). For her, she said that her dream client would be Waterview Properties - a prominent property management company with offices here in Florida, as well as in several other states. She would need to meet the HR director for the introduction. Diana owned an IT company and having this account would make her year, and probably many to follow, as well as boost the credibility of her client list. At the time, I didn't have any personal connections at Waterview Properties, but the description she gave of her dream client was so clear and concise, that it stayed with me.

Two years later, my son started his first year of flag football. He was seven-years-old and making his first big step into organized sports. At the practices each week, the parents would sit on the sidelines and cheer on our kids - we would laugh and talk and get to know each other better...which sounds an awful lot like...networking! Yes, there we were doing our personal form of networking. And that is where I met and became friends with Debbie. Her husband was one of the coaches and at each practice we would sit next to each other and talk, laugh and have a great time watching our kids.

Near the end of the season, after countless flag football practices and weekend games, we made plans to get the families together - we had had too much fun together all season to let this all end with the last game. So with that, we made plans to have them over one Sunday for a casual meal and watch football. It was a great afternoon and before they left that night, Debbie and I decided to make plans for a girl's lunch. No kids or husbands, just some time to hang out together and have a great lunch being girls. I knew she worked in the area, so I figured that we'd meet at a restaurant locally. "Debbie, where do you work?" I asked. "I work over at Waterview Properties." she said. Hmm...Waterview Properties...that sounded familiar. Oh, right! That was the company that Diana had told me about a while back - her dream client! "What do you do there?" "I'm the HR Director."

Huh?? No way. This was not just the company, but the exact person that Diana had been looking for an introduction to! Her dream client was sitting right in front of me...was becoming a very close friend. This was unbelievable!

"Debbie, you're not going to believe this, but one of the people I work with told me that you were the person that she most wanted to meet - that Waterview Properties was her dream client!". Debbie started laughing. "I can't believe I'm anyone's "Dream-anything!!" she said. "I'm flattered!"

With that, she started to ask some questions about Diana and her company. Waterview Properties happened to be getting quite frustrated with their current IT company and Debbie was more than happy to meet with Diana to find out more about her IT company and see if it would be a good fit for Waterview's needs.

Diana's IT company got the account, and several years later, is still the IT provider for Waterview Properties. Debbie and I are still very close friends and laugh about what a small world it is.

And it is a small world. But at the end of the day, networking at its very best, is natural. It's organic. It's not staged or "set up". Nobody is "playing" anybody. It's people meeting people. Investing time and energy to get to know and hopefully, like them. Then it's adding value to their lives. I know. It sounds too simple. But I've always found that when things feel simple, when they flow the most smoothly, that's how you know you're doing it right.

Sandy Donovan is an Executive Director of BNI for Palm Beach and SE Florida. She is also the Executive Director of Network University, which she founded in 2009. As a contributing author of two New York Times Best-Sellers: Masters of Networking and Masters of Sales, she has had the opportunity to share her knowledge and experience in networking with business professionals across the globe.

With over 5,500 active chapters, and over 100,000 members throughout every populated continent worldwide, BNI is the largest and most successful business referral organization in the world. BNI was founded in 1985 by Dr. Ivan Misner and the organization, which allows only one person from each profession to join a chapter, offers members the opportunity to share ideas, contacts, and most importantly, referrals. Last year alone, members of BNI passed 6.2 million referrals, generating 2.6 billion dollars’ worth of business.

For more information on BNI, please visit or call BNI Headquarters at 909.608.7575.

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