Is Your Networking NOTworking?

By Lori Dubois, CWCC Member

Creating a strategic networking plan is easier – and smarter – than you think

What generates business for you? Leads, prospects, sales-where do they come from? If any, or all, of your business comes from referrals and/or networking, you are in good company. Since networking takes time and effort, it pays to spend a little time to periodically review, analyze, and tweak your networking strategies. It is easy to fall into the habit of signing up for every networking event you see, but soon you may be spending all your time running around yet wondering why it’s not resulting in more leads and more business.

Definition of Networking

Networking is a popular term used broadly in today’s world. Many times people refer to prospecting and networking as the same thing. While the first steps of networking can be useful in prospecting, this article is talking about true and traditional networking- relationship building.

My definition of networking is connecting with people to determine if you want to build a relationship, then building and nurturing that relationship for mutually beneficial opportunities. Of course you do not want to build a relationship with every single person you meet, nor should you. Meeting people is the first step, but not the only step to networking. Networking can, and should, be done with new acquaintances as well as old friends. Networking with the intention of helping others succeed will plant seeds that return to you many times over.

Crafting Your Networking Plan

A networking plan should include your objectives, identifying networking activities or meetings, how to approach networking events, tracking results, and making changes for ongoing networking.

1)      Clarify and state your personal reasons for networking. Typically, it is to meet people with whom to build working relationships to mutually benefit your businesses. If you are looking for friends or personal contacts, this is called socializing. Socializing and networking can overlap, for example, a business connection can develop into a personal relationship, or a friendship can turn into a client. But it is important to remember the objectives are different.

2)      Identify the types of people you want to meet and speak with. Go to places where those people go, or where the people who know those people will be. Circles of friends, colleagues, business acquaintances, or leads groups provide the opportunity to network on an ongoing basis, and are often your most effective marketing tool, because as these relationships become deeper and richer, you are able to help others more and receive more help because you understand each others’ needs better.

3)      Look for opportunities to network. These include involvement in Chambers of Commerce, meetups, specific business-sponsored networking events, leads groups, seminars and workshops, lunch with a client, social activities with a business relationship, awards ceremonies, serving on committees, reconnecting with colleagues from old jobs, and more. Use your imagination!

4)      Outline your networking approach. The goal is not how many business cards you can pass out, or collect. The goal is to meet people with whom you have a reason to speak with again. You don’t have to spend a long amount of time chatting with someone to determine if it would be beneficial to speak again or meet in the future. To the same point, you don’t have to immediately launch into a sales speech of what you do or what you can do for them. A little bonding and rapport goes a long way, with strangers or those you know well. Being perceived as sincere, friendly, and passionate about what you do is always more important than your actual words. Ask someone for their business card only if you want it and intend to contact them. Finally, follow up with individuals in a timely manner.

5)      Schedule networking meetings into your calendar or they won’t happen. Give as much weight to building relationships as anything else you do. Depending on your schedule and priorities, you may have one networking event or meeting a week, or five.

6)      Track and analyze your efforts. Know where your leads and sales are coming from so you can replicate your efforts. If a particular group or event is not producing real business contacts after a reasonable amount of time, replace it with something else. It may prove more productive to have a one-on-one meeting with a client or friend than it does to go to an after-hours event with 60 people. Based on your personality and networking style, you may prefer certain types of networking over others, and that’s OK- as long as it produces results!

Work the Plan

When you have created your strategic networking plan, follow it. Develop relationships and always be mindful of what you can offer someone else. You know that person that seems to be a natural born connector, the resource that everybody turns to? That person usually enjoys plenty of business for themself. You can be that person by being more effective with your networking!

Lori Dubois owns Dubois Information, a marketing communications company helping small to medium sized businesses define their target market, develop their marketing message, and determine the best methods for communicating their message. Dubois Information works with business owners to communicate better with their clients and prospects through email marketing, newsletters, surveys, web content, and social media strategies.

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