During my formidable college years, I learned much about networking and marketing from my friends. They had enthusiastically jumped onto the network marketing bandwagons of consumer products, water filtration, steak knives, long distance services, and a plethora of other interesting business concepts. After what seemed like hundreds of intimate meetings with friends in their homes and the now-cliche flip chart in the living room, I learned much about networking and marketing. Most of the stuff that I learned from my friends was how NOT to network and how NOT to market.

After uncountable invitations to these sessions, I finally asked a friend why he thought I was a target for this new business concept and his response was, “because you know a bunch of influential people that might buy this crap.” This really got me thinking about how successful business people market their business to their vast networks. At this time in my college life, I, and obviously all of my network marketing buddies, had the misconception that knowing people equated to instant business success.

Fast forward 20 years in my life when I started an insurance agency. Conventional wisdom told me that since I know people, I should be able to convert relationships to dollars. Friends kept telling me that I would be the ideal insurance agent because of my relationships, but memories of flip charts in living rooms began to haunt me. Thoughts being known as the guy who only wants to be friends because he want to sell something kept me up at night. We all know folks whose persona and style is “business success at all costs” – don’t worry, this article is not written to tell you that their style is wrong. However, I chose a different style based on this principle: “If I succeed in business and make lots of money but have no friends, I have failed in life as a human being.” So, how do I effectively market to my network and abide by this principle? My answer: slowly, carefully, and maybe not at all.

When asked to write this article on the subject of successful networking, I contemplated all that I’ve done to successfully grow my networks and eventually my insurance business. After all the contemplation, this is what I discovered: I’ve grown my networks through a sincere interest in people and/or organization without an ulterior motive. For example, my wife and I go to church and belong to a Sunday school class because we want to grow in God’s Word and socialize with other Christians in our community. We didn’t join the church to grow my business. Not surprisingly, there are many of our church friends who have turned into clients or who refer us business.

There are obviously different types of networks (business networks and personal networks). Use your business networks to expand your business and your personal networks to feed your passions. Business networks that you should consider include BNI, your local Rotary Club, Toastmasters and other business networking groups. These groups are designed specifically to help you grow your business.

Also consider your ‘vertical market’ as a source of networking. What is your “vertical market”? If you can define your vertical market, think of ways that you can help your vertical market be more effective to their customers. If you can figure this out, you should have a never-ending stream of referrals. I’m in the business of insuring homes. My vertical market would be realtors and mortgage folks that have numerous transactions that need homeowners insurance to close. These transactions are opportunities for me. Due to this, I’ve tried to develop relationships with realtors and mortgage people because they all have clients that need homeowners insurance. if I can effectively help them close a deals faster, I would hope that in return, they would refer me business.

Your personal network of friends, family, and personal interests can really help your business too, BUT be careful not to use your personal networks as a prospect list. There’s no faster way of earning a bad reputation than persistently prospecting to your friends and family. Your friends and family should WANT to help you. So ask them to help by referring “vertical market” folks to you, or have them refer friends to you that may need or want the service or product that you offer. When you are in business, your entire network (business and personal) should know what you do and what you have to offer. Your entire network shouldn’t be your next victim or prospect though. A wise man once told me that selling to your friends and family only causes pain and heartache to you and your friends and family. No truer piece of advice has been given to me since.

So in closing, here are my recommendations:

1. Meet as many people as you can.

2. Get involved in things that you are passionate about and interest you.

3. Don’t confuse your business networks with your personal networks.

4. Be careful about using your personal networks to prospect.

Finally, never, ever, ever, ever, EVER host an event with your friends that involves a flip chart in your living room:).

Happy Hunting

Leash Yu is the President of Agency Yu, Inc. Agency Yu, Inc. is the largest independently owned satellite agency of the Barhorst Insurance Group which is the largest Nationwide Insurance Agency in the nation. Leash has been in the insurance business since 2002 after successful careers in Industrial Product Sales and Technology/Software Sales after graduating from Texas A&M University in 1992. Leash lives in Houston, TX along with his wife Wendy of 16 years and his two daughters Lily (9) and Coco (8).

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