Are you always on the lookout for a good book or article on networking techniques? Here’s one we spotted: Never Eat Alone by well-known networker Keith Ferrazzi,  a “how to network” book — tips and techniques on how to grow your contact network.

It’s a pleasant surprise to find that it’s really about growing relationships — mostly business relationships.

Networks vs. Relationships

You might wonder why there’s a distinction between networking and building relationships.

If you’ve ever been to a networking event and exchanged business cards with someone, only to never talk with that person again, then you were networking.

However, if you’ve had continuing interaction with that person — perhaps working on a project together or referring business to each other — then you have developed a networking contact into a relationship that will hopefully continue to grow and be valuable to both of you.

In Never Eat Alone Ferrazzi explains the value of having access to people who can help you succeed. One of the keys to obtaining access to influential people is “reciprocity” — making sure that over time the relationship benefits both people. Sometimes you’ll need the other person for assistance, and sometime later the other person may ask you for help. The key is that neither person “keeps score” trying to equalize the amount of help each person gives the other.

Check Your Compass

A key aspect to developing a mutually beneficial connection is knowing how you and the other person can help each other.

This requires that you have a clearly defined mission, or general direction, that you’re heading. Those of us who work independently sometimes think we need to be very specialized and focus on doing one thing so we can have one “brand image.” However, networking only within a specialized area limits the range of people you meet.

Although I’ve worked in technology, advertising, media, sales, and other areas, there is a common thread to what I do: help business people communicate with customers better.

So, instead of being concerned about people thinking I lack career focus, I prefer to look at my overall “mission” or “purpose” that guides me in a general direction.

In other words, you don’t need a AAA road map with the complete route highlighted. But it does mean you need to check your career compass frequently to make sure the relationships you create will help move you in the right general direction.

Build It Before You Need It

Relationships take time to nurture. You need experience in dealing with another person so you’ll know how you can help and support each other.

This is why it’s important to build your network of contacts before you need to ask a contact for help or a referral.

It may be years before you need (or can help) someone in your network. This means it’s important to take good notes so you can later find a person’s information when you need it.

You may have heard a person described as having a “Golden Rolodex,” meaning they’ve collected contact information on a large number of valuable contacts. The use of paper-based Rolodex cards has declined in favor of contact management software (such as the contact manager in SureToMeet), but the objective is the same — you need to be able to quickly and easily retrieve contact data about the people in your network.

Food Builds Relationships

The title of Ferrazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone, might lead you to believe that taking customers to lunch is the key to networking. Yes, lunch with prospects and customers is great. But he actually focuses part of the book on a different meal — dinner.

He tells several stories about how dinner parties became a key part of his networking strategy. He explains exactly how to have a dinner party that’s not only fun for everyone, but helps you accomplish your networking goals.

This is one of the techniques I’ve gleaned from his book and put into practice. I’ve hosted a number of small dinner gatherings recently, usually at restaurants convenient for everybody in the group.

One of the purposes of the gatherings has been to introduce people who don’t know each other. It’s amazing how often people are interested in meeting new people over dinner.

Online Networking vs. Face-to-Face Networking

In the past few years a number of social networking Web sites have sprung up. LinkedIn and Ryze are probably the two best sites for online business networking. The challenge in using these sites is what to do after you’ve identified a potential contact. Do you use that Web site’s messaging system to introduce yourself? Do you contact them directly? Unfortunately for many people, these connection sites don’t work as well as users expect.

I’ve met many people online in discussion groups and forums, and have enjoyed those conversations. However, the most beneficial of those relationships included meeting them later face-to-face.

While face-to-face networking usually produces greater results than just interacting with someone online, the ease of online networking makes it a terrific technique, too.

In fact, for most people, face-to-face networking is easier to do and has greater (and more lasting) results than online networking. I’m confident that over time we’ll see more people benefit from online networking. But for now the question is how to meet people face-to-face who can become a valuable part of your contact network. This usually means attending events where you are sure to meet like-minded people — people who share your interests and passions.

In Never Eat Alone Ferrazzi details the strategies he uses to meet the people he wants to meet at events and conferences. For face-to-face networking like this, the event calendar sites (such as SureToMeet, of course) can help you find events where you can meet the people you want to meet.

Food for Thought

If you’ve gotten tired of networking because it didn’t seem to work, or if you’re looking for ways to turn your contact network into a valuable resource, pick up a copy of Keith Ferrazzi’s book Never Eat Alone.

It’ll provide the “why” of networking that’ll help you make better use of those “how to” networking books and articles that we’ve all collected.


Cliff Allen is the co-founder of SureToMeet.com. He is the co-author of the book One-to-One Web Marketing; 2nd Ed., published by John Wiley & Sons.