No More Wimpy Networking
“Work the network” is a familiar business development motto for most companies, especially for professional and personal service providers. In practice, for your network to really produce results it needs regular exercise. It is very easy to get busy, bogged down and stretched too thin to even think about growing your network. But if you stop and take a strategic approach to networking, you’ll find it fits easily into your day-to-day schedule, and you’ll start to see a significant return on your investment of time.
What is “Networking”, exactly? Is it going to the latest chamber of commerce event and working the room, passing out business cards? Yes…and no. By definition, it is creating and pursing business opportunities through mutually beneficial, professional connections between individuals. To put it another way – opportunities are realized when the right people connect. Attending traditional networking events is just one of the tools at your disposal.
A strategic approach to networking includes a mix of meet-and-greet events, contact management, community interaction and good, old-fashioned follow-up. The strategy part comes in finding the balance between these networking activities that best suit your goals, your industry and your personality. To start defining that strategy, think back to each new client or successful business pursuit in the past year or two, and categorize how those opportunities came about. List them out under one or more of the headings below:
- Direct or indirect referral – they had a specific need and were referred to you through someone in your network
- Network referral – before they had a need, you were introduced through a mutual contact and they became part of your network
- Self referral – you met them independently at an event, on-line or in the community
- Marketing response – they contacted you based on an ad, flyer, web search, newsletter or other marketing piece
- Reputation response – they came looking for you based on what they heard and/or read about you in the industry