Networking, Introductions, Non-Competitive Partners, Joint Ventures, Affiliates.
Those are the five stages of Ninja Networking mastery, and they just so happen to spell NINJA.
Actually, it’s not a coincidence. Realizing that “networking” and “ninja” started with the same letter, I decided to see if I could make a cool ninja networking acronym. And I did.
Then, I realized that it not only spelled a super cool word, but that it did it in the order that most people follow on this journey.
It was meant to be!
In this article, I’m going to do a quick overview of the five stages, and in future articles I’ll dive deeper into each area. If you find this interesting, and would like to come on a journey with me to learn the secrets of the Ninja Networker, I encourage you to join my Ninja Networking program.
First Level: Networking
The first level of Ninja Networking is networking. It all starts with getting out there and meeting people.
As you become more advanced, you will become more selective where you network and whom you network with, but to start it’s about just doing it.
In 2014, I arrived in Groton, Connecticut knowing practically no one and dived into networking with ignorance on fire. I attended every networking event I could find. Business after hours. Business before hours. Ribbon cutting. Ribbon tying. Typewriter ribbon. Whatever, I was there.
I didn’t know what I was doing or what I was supposed to do, but I approached the process with the intention to help whomever I could and create connections.
Within a year, I went from unknown to well known. I was a connector of people of note in the community.
It was slower than it would have been had I had a strategy or guidance, but the approach gave me the opportunity to figure it out.
The purpose of the Ninja Networking Program is that you don’t have to spend a year to figure it out on your own, but either way, the first step is getting out there, meeting people, and making connections.
Second Level: Introductions
Once you are getting out there and meeting people, it’s time to make something out of those connections.
The Introductions stage is about both giving and receiving introductions.
Since it is better to give than to receive (easier too), we start by giving. Every person we meet in a networking context, we want to approach with an intention of helping them to solve a problem that they have.
In the first level, conversations may be awkward and feel forced. You’re not sure why you are talking to someone, what to talk about, or how to introduce yourself.
At this level, it is easier because you have a purpose in every conversation: identifying and helping with a problem that your counterpart has.
In a conversation, you are not trying to figure out where to slip in your elevator pitch. Instead, you are asking questions to understand what is important to them, what their goals are, and what their challenges are. Once you have identified their problem, you are looking to figure out who you can introduce them to who might solve their problem.
Sometimes that person may, in fact, be you. If I talk to someone and find that their biggest problem is not knowing how to network, then the appropriate introduction would be to the guy who runs the Ninja Networking Program. That happens to be me.
Is this selling at a networking event? Yes, but not in the bad way. Nobody wants to be sold to, but everyone wants their problem solved, even if that solution costs money.
Do you see the difference between assaulting someone with your pitch and discovering then offering to solve their problem?
Even if you are not the solution to their problem, offering introductions as solutions will still quickly return value to you.
People are driven to reciprocity. You have done good for them, and they’ll want to know how they can return the service. Some will ask straight out who they can introduce you to. Others may need to be prompted. Either way, if you know whom you are looking to meet, your new friend will be happy to make introductions for you if they can.
Level Three: Non-Competitive Partners
So far, we have found networking spaces, made some connections, made some introductions, and received a few. Everything has been one off. We start over each time.
At this next level, we deepen some of our relationships that started with an introduction to be an ongoing conduit of connections.
In this level, the ninja networker finds people that they naturally synergize with to be ongoing referral and resource partners. A mortgage broker and a Realtor. An estate attorney and a financial advisor. A LinkedIn strategist and a funnel builder.
The combinations are endless. As long as you work with similar audiences but offer different solutions, then a relationship will be valuable.
One way to think about it is that every solution creates a problem. The Realtor solves the problem of looking for a house and creates a new problem of needing a mortgage. The lead generator solves the problem of needing leads and creates a problem of being able to close those leads.
If you can find the person who creates the problem you solve, that’s a natural non-competitive partner. Also, someone who solves the same problem in a different way is good. If you do LinkedIn lead generation and meet someone who does Google Ads, you both solve the problem of getting more leads, but in a different way. Many people like to apply multiple approaches, so you can refer business back and forth.
Level Four: Joint Ventures
Most of Ninja Networking is making introductions to be of service to those in your community, but with a select few networking partners, there is the opportunity to mutual gain through various forms of joint ventures.
In the networking context, the definition of “joint venture” is a bit more expansive than in other contexts. In the wider business world, a joint venture is often something quite involved involving contracts and jointly owned programs.
It can be that, but, as we discuss it, it is any partnership which results in all parties having quantifiable gain.
The simplest form of this is a referral fee or commission arrangement. For example, for anyone you introduce them to who becomes a client, you’ll get the first month’s payment or 20% of their fee each month as they pay.
It can also be sharing other benefits. For example, you could partner with someone on running a virtual summit. You might keep all the revenues, but they will get access to the mailing list generated. A virtual summit is a bit of a joint venture for all the participants. The organizer gets revenues from VIP tickets and upsells. The speakers get exposure and access to the audience. Everyone contributes a part, everyone benefits, but no direct payments are made among any of the parties.
There are as many forms of joint venture as there are people wanting to collaborate. There is no wrong way to do it as long as everyone is upfront, honest, and fulfils any promises.
Level Five: Affiliates
Affiliates are a form of joint venture, and technically “affiliate” includes what I referred to as “commission” in Level Five, but I needed a word that started with A to spell “ninja,” so we’re using it.
In this context, I am using affiliate to refer to affiliate programs. In the same way the the Non-Competitive Partners level was a way to systematize Introductions, this level systematizes Joint Ventures.
The challenge with joint ventures is that they may need to be negotiated separately. Each partner may have a completely different arrangement. This is fine if you have one or two, but it doesn’t scale.
At this level, you systematize your joint ventures. The most common form is to have some kind of affiliate program that a partner can just sign up to promote.
This could be an evergreen thing, meaning that they can promote it whenever they like or that they can just use it for individual referrals. This could also be built around specific events such as a launch, summit, or other event.
In the second case, the event is often promoted by a number of affiliate partners who are all promoting together, being provided with swipe copy to use, and seeing their success relative to others on a leaderboard.
Personally, I’m a big fan of leaderboards because they are fun. I like to play Chess, but there’s a whole different level of excitement to go to a Chess tournament. A leaderboard is the same thing. Promoting a campaign and making commissions is fun, but when there’s a leaderboard and you have the chance to compete, it makes it an event, a happening, something to be a part of.
Similar to the Level Four Joint Ventures, there are as many ways to run affiliate programs as there are people who run them. Some work better. Some used to work better then they were overused and now they don’t work as well. Some are easier for the organizer to run. Some are dictated by the technology being used.
Either way, they are often the easiest ways to partner with bigger players, and a good way to monetize and serve an audience.
I will be writing five follow up articles, going more in depth on all five levels of Ninja Networking.
This framework is the core of the Ninja Networking Program, a group coaching program that will guide you from you first networking event to building your own affiliate program. If you are interested in learning more, you can schedule a call with me here, or you can sign up for the program directly here.