Is Your Networking Strategy Working?
Are your networking efforts working? If not – perhaps it is because you don’t have a networking strategy.
Many think networking is going to an event, and handing out as many of their business cards as they can think this is success. Chances are – your business card ends up in the trash.
Prospects don’t call you. Therefore you naturally assume networking doesn’t work.
They don’t call you because they are at the networking event doing the same thing as you – handing out business cards hoping to turn you into a paying customer.
Developing a Networking Strategy?
A good networking strategy looks to expand your network across a broad spectrum that keeps you abreast of what’s happening in your geographic location, industry and community. It can significantly reduce time spent cold calling and chasing up unqualified leads. It can also reduce your need to advertise as you continue to build your business connections.
Building sustainable relationships is the key to building a successful business. It’s very hard to build relationships based purely on advertising and other marketing activities. This is because it’s the personal touch that counts. Therefore it makes sense to add networking to your lead generation strategies.
In addition to your website, advertising, brochures and other promotional activities, generating leads through face-to-face networking activities should form part of your overall marketing strategy. If you can’t attend face-to-face networking events, then your strategy needs to include on-line networking activities.
Networking activities don’t always have to be formal events, they can be any activities that generate contacts. Contacts don’t always have to be a contact that turns into a lead or customers. They can also be people who don’t have a need for your products and services, but they can refer you to others who are likely prospects.
How to Create a Networking Strategy
Think About Your Target Market
Choose your target market carefully. Here are some questions to ask yourself.
- Where does your target market spend time offline?
- Does your target market spend time on-line?
- What blogs or websites do they read?
- What formal networks do they belong to?
- What other events or conferences do they attend?
- Do they belong to any industry groups?
- Who else interacts with your target market you should get to know?
Set Networking Goals and Objectives
Ask yourself…..“Is what I am currently doing is getting me closer to where I want to be?”
If the answer is no, then something needs to change. You also need clearly defined goals and objectives that are SMARTER Specific, Motivational, Accountable, Relevant, Time Based, Ethical and Rewarding.
If you go to a networking event with no goal in mind, the chances are that’s what you will achieve – nothing. If you attend a networking event with the goal of handing out as many business cards as they can, that’s exactly what you will achieve, doesn’t mean anyone will call you back.
Once you have chosen what networking events to associate with, organize yourself accordingly. Schedule networking events and follow-up activities in your diary including travel time to and from events and time to follow up with new connections.
Prioritize what events you will attend (both face-to-face and on-line) according to their importance and relevance to your business goals because it’s not possible to attend every single event out there.
Schedule networking events exactly the same way you would a business meeting. Pay for events upfront so that you are committed to attending.
Allocate a Budget
Business Networking is one activity where you can communicate value to your target market. As it is part of your overall marketing strategy, allocate a budget for networking activities within your sales and marketing budget. Your budget is not just about money it’s also about budgeting your time.
Your financial budget needs to include:
- Membership fees
- Event fees
- Coffee meetings
- Thank you cards and postage
Budgeting your time will include:
- Following up time with those you met after events.
- Making phone calls to set up meetings.
- Sending out emails of value.
- Maintaining your contact database or CRM.
- Sending out value-added articles, newsletters or links.
Attend Events Regularly
Networking is more about creating a valuable and lasting business relationship with people of influence. The way to do this is to get to know people better and have people get to know you. What you will find is that many of the same people attend these events and getting to know them is important. By attending networking events regularly, you start to build strong connections with others who do the same.
These connections are important because even though not everyone you meet will be your target market, they will know someone who is. Have you ever had that random experience where someone landed their dream job or landed a dream customer through an obscure connection? It was because someone knew someone who knew someone. This is the power of networking.
Once you have found your niche networking events, get involved, it’s a great way to increase your profile and stay visible as well as give back. Join the committee, help out with the organization, volunteer to help at the registration desk, collect feedback forms (yes you get to read them) or even arrange to be an MC. This experience is helpful in developing your own skill sets should you want to host your own event one day. You will learn what to do, and what not to do, especially from reading those feedback forms.
Develop an Elevator Pitch
An elevator pitch sometimes known as an elevator speech, describes you and your business in a brief concise statement. It’s called an elevator pitch because it’s short and concise and something you could deliver between floors of an elevator.
Let’s say you were asked what you did, and you answered…
… I’m an accountant.
… I’m a web designer.
Not very memorable is it and certainly doesn’t get someone you’ve just met wanting to know more. A better response would be:
“As a small business accountant, I specialize in helping business owners identify cost savings that results in significant increases in efficiency and bottom line results.”
“I’m a web designer who has worked with companies just like yours improving the functionality of their website leading to greater conversion rates. Some of my customers have seen a 50% increase in conversion rates.”
Download the FREE Elevator Pitch Toolkit here to create your own compelling elevator pitch.
Prepare Conversation Starters
One of the reasons people flounder when meeting others for the first time is because they don’t know how to start a conversation. Preparing a conversation starter helps to overcome this fear and breaks the ice. Before attending an event, think about what event it is and who might be attending.
You might read the newspaper that day to refresh yourself with something topical that might be of interest to others. You can also develop a “bank” of conversation starters from articles in blog posts or industry publications. You could even collect interesting articles and keep them in a folder to access prior to a networking event as a refresher.
Look for conversation starters that are generic and other people would be interested in. It’s advisable to steer away from controversial subjects like politics and religion. It’s also advisable, unless you are a natural at telling jokes, to steer away from jokes that might fall flat or cause offence.
Look to Help Rather Than Receive
When you look to help rather than receive, it’s known as the law of abundance. In other words, there are enough opportunities out there for everyone. This seems counter-intuitive when one of your aims for attending networking events is to identify new business opportunities.
You need to give to receive. When you help others, they will naturally want to help you in return. What goes around comes around – the law of reciprocity. As you gain a reputation for helping others, you become a person other people want to know and your reputation grows. Networking is about enabling high quality introductions and referrals.
Try seeing your competitors as allies. You might surprise yourself at the number of opportunities presented to you as a result of making on-line and off-line connections. It may give you the opportunity for you both to collaborate and work together.
Making and Receiving Introductions
If you are asking for an introduction from someone in your network, make it easy for them as it can be a time-consuming exercise.
Construct an email that explains why it would be beneficial to the person you want to be introduced to. Also, include a brief bio of yourself and your business so that the email can be forwarded to the person concerned without a lot of effort from your contact.
If you make it easy for the person to introduce you, you are far more likely to get the introduction.
Give Out Referrals
When you give out referrals or give back to an organization, do so without expecting anything back. The simple act of helping others achieve their goals will come back to you someday. Again, this is the Law of Reciprocity. What you give out comes back to you tenfold. When you give out positivity – you get positivity back.
If someone does give you a referral, make sure you follow up quickly out of respect for the person who referred you. When people refer you to others, it’s also a reflection on them. If you don’t follow up, then you immediately break the circle of trust. As a courtesy, always let the person know who referred you know that you did follow up and what the outcome was.
Also be sure to thank them appropriately for the referral. It might be a simple email, a handwritten note, a bottle of wine or even invite them to lunch or dinner as a thank you.
Focus on Building Connections
If you go to networking events and focus solely on trying to make a sale, you will miss out on the real purpose of networking and that is to make lasting connections.
Focus on getting to know people rather than pushing your products and services. They may not buy your products or services today, they may not buy your products and services ever, but in time, they may send referrals your way. Connections won’t do this unless you have built rapport and developed a trusting relationship with them first.
To establish yourself as a professional and credible person, you do need to look the part. That doesn’t always mean wearing a lady’s suit or suit and tie for men; neither does it mean wearing expensive clothes. What it means is leaving those baggy pants behind where they belong and wearing something more on the dressy side.
There’s also nothing wrong with wearing a uniform with your brand emblazoned on it providing it looks professional and flattering. There are plenty of options for smart casual uniforms that you can brand with your name and logo. This can also help people remember you and provide a conversation starter for others.
If in doubt, dress up. You can always remove your jacket and tie if you need to dress down. For males, ensure any facial hair is trim and neat and for women, be careful overusing makeup and jewelry unless it’s appropriate for the industry you are in.
Dress for the occasion. If you are unsure about the dress code, ask the organizers.
Practice Introducing Yourself
A key skill in effective networking is to learn the art of introducing yourself and building rapport. That’s where a practiced elevator pitch comes into its own.
Practice introducing yourself when you are asked the question “What do you do?” It’s amazing how many people new to networking get flustered or apologetic when asked that question. That’s where your elevator pitch needs to be refined so that you can deliver it concisely and within about 30 seconds. Be prepared!
Always be honest about who you are and what you do at the same time, don’t be overly modest. Project confidence in yourself, who and what you represent.
Create an Impactful Business Card
Every time you give out your business card, it’s a reflection of you and your business. You want it to be memorable and make it easy for people to remember you.
Along with the way you dress, the way you carry yourself and your handshake, your business cards make a first impression. Having an impactful business card is vital when attending networking events. If you can, have your card designed by a professional designer. The investment will be well worth it.
On a final note
Networking allows you to make connections to open doors. Once the door is open, you still must build a relationship with others. Why? Because it’s the relationship that allows you to move into the buying and selling cycle that will ultimately culminate in a sale.
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