What is Business Networking? Being of Service to Others First!

Last Updated: July 1, 2020

Truly successful business networking occurs when people without any vested interest in your company nevertheless enthusiastically recommend your offering to other people. Entrepreneur Colm O’Brien looks at how the process works.

what is business networking
Image Source: Pixabay

If you’re a new startup entrepreneur, you’ll probably have heard enough from mentors and more experienced peers to start asking yourself seriously, what is business networking?

“Build your business around solving human problems…”

The short answer is that it’s terribly important; something that, if done properly, is extremely powerful; but terribly damaging when done badly.

I’ve experienced a few things in recent weeks that make it timely for a reinvestigation of this topic. First, I attended an event at Croke Park in Dublin, entitled, ‘Sell: Your Story’, organised by Kevin Kelly, with some 200 other people who had converged to share their stories of successes and challenges; of the outcome of imaginative thinking; and of the wonderful effect of karma when everything and everyone is in the right place at the right time.

I was thinking about this when, over the past few days, myself and my wife decided to walk the 5km into Limerick city from our house for a lunch. It part penance, part necessity—we’d been out the night before, had a number of drinks, and so had left the car in town.

Anyway, we decided that we would like to have soup, and I recalled seeing that a friend, Kevin Kiely Jr, had opened a vegetarian and vegan restaurant in the city. Where better to indulge our hunger for a nice bowl of soup?

The Old Fire Station Restaurant is a bit of a walk from the main footfall areas of the city. To be honest, I was concerned that we’d be the only customers, so I must admit I had hatched a plan that, if this was the case, we’d say we were only passing by to wish him well and then skedaddle to another place.

Well I was wrong. The place was packed. As soon as we opened the door, we were engulfed by a cacophony of happy voices. We actually had to wait for a table in Kevin’s 50-seat establishment.

We got chatting with people, asking them how they had found out about Kevin’s restaurant, which had opened only days earlier. Turns out, they were told about it by friends. Social media played a part, but word of mouth was even more significant.

While Kevin and his team of course have a vested interest in promoting their restaurant, the rest of us don’t. But regardless, if the offering is good and we enjoy it, we’re happy to pass on our experiences to friends and family. The idea is that you want them to have the same enjoyable experience you did, and so you tell them that they will enjoy it too if they visit. That is networking.

Our pea and mint soup lunch was delicious, and Kevin stopped by our table and talked about setting up the new establishment. He had turned vegan three years ago, and realised there was scant choice for vegans and vegetarians in Limerick.

“I remembered what Richard Branson said – build your business around solving human problems, and so I did,” Kevin said.

This phrase, “build your business around solving human problems”, has been rattling around in my mind ever since. It reminded me of the importance of networking, and what another very wise man, George Bernard Shaw, once said:

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples, then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”

If you put people together in the right way, magic happens. But if you put them together in the wrong way, that potential magic is lost forever.

I want to turn from illustrations of what is business networking, to illustrations of what, I believe, it most certainly is not. Before I do, here’s a short video. If you can’t watch this in work, scroll down and read on.


Video Source: Colm O’Brien

We live in a world that is results-driven, but with some types of networking, the opportunity for this kind of magic is never realised.

Some network marketing, for instance, tends to treat everybody as suspects first, prospects second and clients or members third. If a prospect doesn’t become a client or member, they are often (though not always) cast aside in favour of finding more suspects that can become prospects and perhaps clients or members.

From my experience at the helm of my school lunches business, Carambola, I think that’s risky. People are people first, people second, and people third, regardless of whether they become clients or members.

I have my doubts about speed networking too. These events are increasingly popular, and are usually run by organisations who, with the best of intentions, want to add value for their membership. But let’s be frank… can a significant and sustainable business relationship really grow out of a 30-second interaction, and a lightning fast exchange of business cards? It’s useful to look at Speed Dating too, and query how many lasting, or any, marriages have resulted from speed dating event, relative to the number of ‘dates’ that are hosted by these events.

One organisation that I enjoy and admire is BNI—Business Networking International—having been a member and chapter director several times over the past two decades. I’ve joined it twice and left it twice. While it’s not perfect (neither am I, nor you, buy the way!), I think that they are close to the mark of what business networking is with their VCP model — Visibility, Credibility & Profitability.

  • Visibility – first we have to be out there
  • Credibility – next we must prove our worth
  • Profitability – this comes last in every meaningful, significant and sustainable relationship.

Over the years, I’ve learned to join the dots. I previously told you about the importance of my encounter with The Man On The Train. The strap-line on my business card, which I passed to The Man on the Train one fateful day in 2003, reads: “How can I help?”

That’s my offer to the Universe, no strings attached. If I can help by connecting you with someone to make your, and their, journey easier, I will.

What happens after the two of you connect is based on VCP; you’re both Visible to one other. The question then is whether you’re Credible to one another; if you are, a relationship may become Profitable for you both.

Chatting with Kevin Kiely at Croke Park, I was talking about my fascination with longevity in general, and Hollywood in particular. We spoke about Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood, De Niro, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Al Pacino. I love these actors. Why? Because of their Visibility and Credibility. They have practiced their craft with integrity and for the purpose of being of service to exceptional stories, consistently, and over the long haul.

Anyone who does this deserves significant Profitability. We deserve it too, but only if we are out there, doing our thing, consistently, persistently, and being of service first.

So what is business networking?

Networking is about connection, firstly for the benefit of the other person.

Networking is not about connection for profit in the first instance.

Proper networking is about VCP — Visibility, Credibility & Profitability — in the long run.


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