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Decades ago, I went to a breakout session at a BNI conference that was called “The Mathematical Formula for Networking Success.” Well, as the founder of the organization, I absolutely had to see this presentation to learn the working formula for successful business networking.

The speaker began his presentation by writing a formula on the flip chart. He talked about “D” representing Dunbar’s average number of relationships and “M” representing Metcalf’s law (also known as the Squared Connection Effect). He continued with a very convoluted and confusing formula doing the square root of one thing and multiplying it by something that seemed totally irrelevant to me.

He hesitated as he spoke to us. He put his fingertips to his lips and hemmed and hawed in his presentation. It was uncomfortably clear to all of us that he was confused and bewildered by his own formula. Not only that, but we were also very confused and bewildered by his formula as well. We all sat there feeling pretty embarrassed for him.

That’s when he turned around to the hundreds of people in the room, picked up a huge red felt marker and put a giant red “X” through the entire formula and said to all of us: “Oh forget about the math — it’s all about relationships!”

The entire room simultaneously exploded into laughter. He was right. Business networking (when done right) is all about the relationships you build.

He went on to explain that there is no mathematical formula for success in business networking. It’s all about nurturing professional relationships — and while there may not be a mathematical formula, there are some principles that, when applied properly, add up to great results in networking.

Related: Are Your Networking Efforts Falling Flat? Shake Things Up With These 5 Strategies.

1. Ensure others know, like and trust you

“Know, like and trust” — that is the process that business people need to follow to feel comfortable referring to other people. I refer to this as the VCP process. First you have to have Visibility in the community by going to networking events. Then you establish Credibility by building a solid reputation for doing good work. After that, the relationships can lead to Profitability through referrals. Don’t just go to networking events to do face-to-face cold calling. Go to them to work your way through the VCP process.

2. Maintain consistent communication

Building and maintaining relationships requires what I like to call “touch points.” How often are you reaching out and connecting with the people in your network? Regularly checking in, sharing updates, and expressing genuine interest in what other people are doing helps to keep connections alive. Benign neglect or letting relationships dissipate over time dramatically weakens your network.

Doing regular 1-2-1s with people, whether in person or online, can help keep the relationship alive. In fact, one university study conducted by Beatrice Sparacino in Europe discovered that people who do four or more 1-2-1s a month both give and receive twice as many referrals as people who do only one 1-2-1 a month. Whether through face-to-face interactions, emails or social media, maintaining open lines of communication reinforces the bond between you and your network. Consistent communication ensures that connections remain strong, even in the absence of immediate opportunities, and allows for a more natural progression of the relationship over time.

3. Hone the description of what you do

Describing what you do definitely depends on your audience. Giving one line at a chamber event is substantially different than doing a weekly 60-second presentation at a group like BNI. For example, if you are doing one sentence about what you do to a large group — use a memory hook. One of the first I ever heard was from a dentist who raised his right hand and said: “I believe in the tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth.” With just a dozen words or so, he made sure everyone in that room would remember who he was and what he did.

On the other hand, if you are in a networking group where you have a little more time to speak and you do so weekly, you need to do something that is fairly counterintuitive. Namely, don’t take a broad brush and explain your business in generalities. Instead, get laser-specific about one aspect of your business. Then the next week another aspect, and so on. After a year, you have taught the people you network with many ways to refer you. In groups like this, the goal is not to make a sale — it is to train a salesforce to find referrals for you.

Related: 5 Ways to Network Your Way to Business Growth and Wealth

4. Create value with your existing and potential referral partners

Successful networking is not solely about what one can get; it is also about what one can give or contribute. Creating value for others establishes the sense of having a reciprocal relationship. This can involve sharing insights, providing assistance, connecting individuals to relevant resources and of course, giving someone a valid referral for their business. By contributing to the success of others, individuals strengthen the bonds within their network and become valuable assets themselves.

Recently, I was doing a radio interview and I talked to the host about value creation by asking people who you want to build a professional relationship with this question: “How can I help you?” He said (live, on air) “That tired old phrase — that doesn’t work!” I didn’t want to argue with him on air, so I moved on. When the interview was over, I asked him who were some of the people that he was looking for to get them on the show. He gave me some names. One of them I knew very well. I told him that he was a good friend of mine and I’d be happy to make an introduction. The host thanked me profusely for my offer. That’s when I said to him that that’s how you can ask, “How can I help you?” without using those actual words. He said, “Touché!” and admitted that it can work well after all.

5. Building a diverse network is vital

Networks are, by nature, clumpy — that’s not the technical term, but they truly do tend to be cluster-like unless we strive to create a broad and inclusive network. People tend to spend time with people that are much like them. However, building relationships with individuals from diverse backgrounds, industries, ethnicities, ages, educations and experiences helps to broaden our perspectives and provide us access to a wider range of opportunities (which I discuss at length in my book The Third Paradigm). These individuals become connectors who connect you to other clusters of people whom you might not normally meet. Embracing diversity in networking not only enhances the richness of our relationships, it also opens doors to a myriad of possibilities for personal and professional growth.

The journey to success in business networking isn’t bound by mathematical formulas but rather it thrives on genuine relationships. The resulting laughter from the mathematical formula resonated with the shared understanding that human connections defy quantification through equations. The core message emerged: Success in networking hinges on meaningful interactions, not complex mathematical computations.

If your network is a mile wide and an inch deep, it will never be successful. It needs to be both wide and, in some places, deep. Meaning that no matter how many people are in your network or how well you are connected — the key is to have deep relationships with people who will be there to help you, support you and refer you over time. This underscores the importance of both breadth and depth in someone’s connections. Merely accumulating a vast network isn’t sufficient; cultivating deep relationships ensures ongoing support and referrals. In essence, the true formula for success in networking lies in the art of building and nurturing authentic connections with others.

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