By Lynne Strang, Late Blooming Entrepreneurs
If you’re someone who doesn’t like schmoozing at cocktail parties to make business contacts, listen up. Bob Littell has a method for meeting other professionals that may suit your style.
Twelve years ago, Littell, principal of Atlanta, Georgia-based Littell Consulting Services, Inc., came up with a concept he calls “NetWeaving.” It’s a “Golden Rule,” or “Pay It Forward,” form of networking, where people focus on putting others’ needs first.
What Goes Around, Comes Around
Here’s how it works: You have two contacts who you think would benefit from meeting each other. Through a virtual or some other type of introduction, you help them exchange bios and arrange to meet in person. When the two parties get together, synergy occurs and a new partnership forms, or they find other ways to help each other. They follow up with you later, to let you know the outcome of the meeting.
“People tell me all the time they’ve been doing this type of connecting for years,” says Littell. “They just never knew what to call it before.”
So how does the strategic matchmaker, or “NetWeaver,” benefit from connecting others? Part of the reward is the gratification that comes from facilitating new business relationships. In addition, the premise behind NetWeaving is “what goes around, comes around,” meaning the people you connect might provide key connections for you one day.
Littell’s own career provides many demonstrations of this philosophy. As a result of NetWeaving activities he did for Xerox Global Services, for example, the company donated printing services for one of his books, “The Heart and Art of Netweaving” (all revenue from the book’s sales goes to charity).
Networking vs. NetWeaving
NetWeaving, says Littell, “is not an attack on networking” but there’s a distinct difference between the two. “When people are networking, it’s really about ‘how can you help me’ and ‘can you give me something I need,’” he says. “With NetWeaving, it’s all about ‘how I can help you’ and ‘Is there someone I know who would benefit from meeting you.’”
People who are NetWeavers, he adds, “learn to listen with a second pair of ears and use a second set of antennae.”
By all accounts, the 65-year-old Littell seems to have mastered this skill, in part because he viewed himself as “a very bad power player” when he was in the corporate world. Prior to starting his consulting practice, he spent over 30 years in the insurance industry, where he held senior positions in marketing and served as president of Broker’s Resource Center. During that time, he honed his ability to connect people, something he started at a very early age (when his father and sister got into debates at dinner, his role was to keep his mother from leaving the table).
In 1999, when he was 53, he left the insurance industry and introduced his relationship-building concept, whose original name was “do-a-favor marketing.” Over time, he renamed it “NetWeaving” and began presenting it to business and service organizations through speeches and training sessions – which he continues to do today. During these sessions, he teaches NetWeaving techniques, such as how to identify a good match, introduce contacts to each other and host meetings to bring them together.
Three Mistakes to Avoid
Littell says the success of his approach depends upon participants avoiding three mistakes. “One is when you call it NetWeaving but what you’re really doing is
networking,” he says. “Another is failing to recognize ‘takers’ and permitting them
to use you.”
The third is “forgetting who brought you to the dance,” meaning the two parties don’t follow up with the person who connected them. If that happens, the NetWeaver
should take the initiative to see how the connection turned out.
NetWeaving appeals to most entrepreneurs because it lacks the superficiality of traditional networking, says Littell. “People often leave corporate life to get away from office politics,” he adds.
The reality is that some networking is necessary for aspiring and established business owners, even if it doesn’t come easily. But in many situations, NetWeaving can be a
more comfortable alternative for making new contacts that can help grow a business.
“We used to have one motto: good things happen to people who make good things happen,” says Littell. “Now we go by a new motto: when you open the door for someone else, you never know who you will meet as a result.”