NETWORKING >> Each section contains key Action Items located within the downloadable Action Guide >> Click to Download Action Guide.
“NET-WORKING” FROM HOME
In the early nineteen eighties, I spent one of several evenings in the
home of an entrepreneurial couple who lived in the foothills of Los
Angeles. This couple would regularly invite people over to their home
to talk. Talk about what? Everything. Life, relationships, business, and
most of all, the future. It was an informal mastermind group of people
who loved good wine, forward thinking, and great conversation.
One night, after an interesting discussion among the night’s guests, the
husband invited me into his office and showed me a fairly large
rectangular hard plastic box. It was a box with a very small five-inch
screen on it. He turned it on and lit it up with these bright monochromatic
characters that flashed on the screen. It said, “Osborne.” I asked my host,
“Osborne what?” He said, “It’s an Osborne computer.” By today’s
standards, this precursor to the personal computer wasn’t much to look
at. The least expensive mobile phones on the market today have infinitely
more computer power than that big box on his desk. Nevertheless, I was
impressed. More importantly, I remember the words he said next, “This
kind of technology will change the world and the way people do business
in it.” Clearly I understood how computers could be used to enhance
business, but I still didn’t understand what he meant. He explained that
this type of technology will allow people to do business anywhere, even
at home. “Look at the trends.” He said, “More people are working or
wanting to work from home. This kind of technology will make that
happen. Not just a few, but millions of people can work from home.
Whole new industries can be created as a result of this new technology.”
This was a prophetic comment if ever there was one. (I should mention at
this point that I was in the home of Paul and Sarah Edwards, later to
become the authors of the landmark book Working From Home among
many others on the subject. They are the world’s leading experts on the
subject of working from home.)
Paul was right about technology changing the face of business. Not long
after our conversation I was one of those people who started a full time
business out of my home. This gave me a great appreciation for the
benefits and challenges associated with it.
I’m often asked about how to network and build a referral business as a
home-based business owner. Let me start by saying that I ran two
home-based businesses for many years. During the eight years I worked
from home, I learned a great deal about the pros and cons of working
from home and how it related to my networking efforts.
And although most of the networking techniques that work for any business work for most home-based businesses, there are at least two important issues that I think apply to a home-based business more than any other.
The first issue relates to introducing yourself to others in networking
environments. One important thing I learned while being a home-based
business owner related to how I promoted myself at networking groups
or when meeting people one on one.
My opinion in this area rubs some home-based business owners the
wrong way, but I feel strongly about it: When networking, I don’t recommend you share that you run a home-based business. I believe this characteristic is what I call a “neutral/negative” feature of your business. That is, telling people you meet in networking environments that you “work from home” has either a neutral or a negative impact because it either doesn’t matter to them, or they’re not impressed that you operate your business out of your house.
When I worked from home, I rarely, if ever, met anyone who said, “Oh,
fantastic, you work from home—I must do business with you!” Working from home was just not something that I found made people want to do business with me; therefore, why should it be emphasized when meeting people through networking?
I open with this issue because it’s something that I see done to this day.
Often, when I attend a networking function, I see someone stand, say
what they do, how people can refer them and then add at the end that he
or she runs a home-based business. I believe that bit of information will
generally have no impact or a negative impact on what people think of
your potential abilities—it almost never has a positive impact on people
wanting to do business with you.
Please note that I never hid that my business was home-based. I simply
didn’t bring it up until after I had a business relationship with the individual.
The Cave-Dweller Syndrome
The second issue relating to networking that I think is more important for
home-based business owners than the average business owner is that it’s
important to break out of what I call the Cave-Dweller Syndrome.
I find that many home-based business owners seriously suffer from Cave-
Dweller Syndrome. Here is how the non-home-based business owner
suffers from this syndrome:
He gets up each morning in a large cave with a big-screen TV—his home.
He goes out to his garage and gets into a little cave with four wheels—his
car. He goes to another really big cave with plenty of computers—his
office. At the end of the day, he gets back into his little cave with four
wheels and drives back to the large cave with the big-screen TV. And he
can’t figure out why no one is referring him!
For home-based business owners, it’s far worse because they don’t even
leave their large cave with the big screen TV to go to the cave with the
computers. They’re one and the same!
It’s even harder for those working from home to get out of their caves. So
for you home-based business owners who want to build your business
through word-of-mouth, you have to be visible and active in the
community by participating in various networking groups and/or
It’s critical for you to join organized networking groups and professional associations that will get you out of your cave. These kinds of groups include: Casual Contact Networks (like your local chamber of commerce), Business Development Networks (like BNI), professional organizations (almost all professions have one), and service clubs (like the Rotary or Lions Clubs).
Look for other ways to be very visible in your circle of influence. For
example, be active in your child’s school PTA or your place of worship.
Keep your eye open for opportunities to be involved in groups of people
who come together for a common cause.
These opportunities will afford you the chance to build relationships, and
that’s what social capital is all about. Visibility leads to Credibility, which
in turn, leads to Profitability.
The bottom line is, networking doesn’t change too much whether your
business is based from home or a corporate location. But there are a few
key points to remember that are specific to working from home. The
dynamics of developing a strong word-of-mouth-based business transcend your business location. The caveat for the home-based business owner is that you’ll have to be even more diligent and focused about finding those networking opportunities.
You’ve said that this advice about not sharing that you’re a home-based business really hits a nerve with some people. Why do you think that is?
Networking is not a controversial topic as a rule; however, this one recommendation that I give tends to really tick people off. People say to
me, “I’m proud of my home.” You know what, I was proud of my home too, but that’s not really the point. I had nothing to be ashamed of. I was running a successful business, it just happened to be out of my home. My point is that it really is a neutral/negative issue. People don’t tend to say, “I really want to work with you because you work out of your home.” Instead it makes either no difference at all or it may have a negative impact. Because of this, I recommend you don’t highlight that. Don’t use that as one of the features that someone should consider in doing business with you.
So it’s really about developing a relationship with your prospects before you share that information with them?
Exactly. Once you work with them the issue is almost completely irrelevant. People don’t really care once they’re working with you or once they’ve decided to work with you. It’s not an issue. I just believe it tends not to be a draw that will bring people to you, so if that’s the case, why point it out when in fact it’s a neutral/negative feature?
So that information is probably safe to share once you’ve passed through the “visibility” stage and are well into the “credibility” stage with a prospect?
That’s a great way of putting it. Once you’re past the visibility stage and
you’ve achieved the credibility stage—that is they know people who have
done business with you and they are impressed with what they hear or
they have talked to you enough that they themselves are impressed with
you. Once you’ve reached that point it doesn’t really matter to them.
What’s the biggest mistake you can make as a home-based businessperson?
I think the biggest mistake is getting caught into the Cave-Dweller Syndrome. It’s so easy to just get up in the morning and stay in the house all day long, even if it’s in an office in the house. You don’t actually get out and get belly to belly with someone else and talk to them and connect with them and build that relationship.
Yes there are online networking opportunities that I talk about in another
Misner’s Moments audio download, but online networking alone is not the
only way to get that kind of visibility. You really need to go out into the
community. When working from home it becomes increasingly difficult. I
think getting caught up in the Cave-Dweller Syndrome is the biggest
potential problem for a home-based businessperson.
So you’re advising getting engaged in your community in order to develop relationships, which in turn can lead to business. How do you nurture those kinds of community relationships that you’re referring to without being seen as a pushy self-promoter?
First of all, I think that people have to understand that networking is more
about farming than it is about hunting. It’s about cultivating relationships
with other people. This is not a get rich quick scheme; this is a way to build
a solid foundation for a long-term successful business. When you’re out
there networking make sure to practice your networking skills in a way that
honors the event. You would network at a chamber of commerce meeting a
lot differently than you would at a wedding. You don’t want to walk around
carrying your business cards at a wedding—you have to honor the event.
If you understand that networking is about building relationships and
helping other people, and it’s about making contacts and connections
where you can help them and they can help you, then networking can be
done anywhere, anytime. Whether you work from home or whether you
work in a company in a big corporate location is really irrelevant.
Networking is about making contacts and developing relationships.
ACTION ITEMS: Complete the Action Items in your Action Guide.
List three opportunities or events that will require you, the home-based businessperson, to get out of your home office and help you to avoid the “Cave-Dweller Syndrome.”