The 3 Keys to Creating a Knockout Networking Strategy

Whether you’re just starting out in the world of networking or you’re a well seasoned networker, there’s one thing you should never go to a networking function without . . . strategy.  In order to be a successful networker, you need to have a plan.  For example, you need to know who your target market is and which networking events will offer the best opportunities to effectively connect with your target market.

So, how do you create a plan when you’re a time-strapped businessperson and you don’t even know where to begin?  Well, you’re in luck–it’s a lot simpler than you think because the starting point is right in front of you.  All you need to do is take three minutes to watch this quick video and I’ll pinpoint the three questions you need to ask yourself in order to develop a highly effective networking strategy specifically tailored for you and your business.

Networking works.  It’s just a matter of crafting a plan that will put you in contact with the right people.  Once you ask yourself the questions in this video and nail down the answers, you’ll be well on your way to networking smarter for maximum results.

This video comes from the educational video archive housed within NetworkingNow.com and it is just one example of the vast array of educational content offered on the NetworkingNow.com website—there are literally hundreds of business and networking downloads available in the site’s online library and you can access all of them for FREE for six months by entering the free subscription code given below.

The free subscription is a gift from BusinessNetworking.com and all you have to do is enter the code(“freesixmonths”) on NetworkingNow.com to gain access to the entire library of content!  Please note that you will be required to enter a credit card number on the site but you will not be billed for the free six month membership.  You will need to end your subscription if you don’t wish to be billed for the second six months.

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8 Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering a Sponsorship Opportunity

Local communities and organizations–be they service clubs or professional groups–depend on sponsorships to make ends meet at some of their events.  This is also true for association trade shows and exhibitions.  In most cases, the dollar amounts for sponsoring events of this sort are modest–ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

How many times have you been asked to be a sponsor?  How many times have you offered to sponsor a select event in order to help out someone in your network?  Both situations have the potential to give you huge exposure if done well.  In addition, sponsoring an event for someone on your word-of-mouth marketing team enhances the relationship, because you are helping that person meet a goal.

When you consider which people you will network with and where, you’re being selective.  Choose carefully, too, when you’re thinking about sponsoring an event.  Is it a good investment of your time and money?  Whether you’re being recruited or are volunteering, ask yourself the following questions before deciding . . .

  • What is the target market for this event?
  • What kind of exposure do I get for my investment?
  • Can I get this kind of exposure without this investment?
  • Do I get direct access to the audience?
  • Does it make sense for me to be there?
  • Which business or networking goal does it help me complete?
  • Are other sponsors my competitors?
  • How does this enhance my credibility with the person I’m helping?
  • Why wouldn’t I do it?

All of these questions help you determine the value of a sponsorship opportunity.  Now, imagine one day being in charge of putting on a huge event.  Suddenly, someone from your network steps forward to offer you a substantial sponsorship because she heard through the grapevine that your event needed money.  How would you feel about that person?  You can create that same feeling toward yourself in someone else by offering that exact gift.  Be selective, and offer your support in person.  In effect, you are making a tidy “deposit” in your relationship bank account.  This act of generosity definitely comes back to you in time, but for now it simply nurtures the relationship by helping someone in your network meet her goals.

This week, think of the people in your network.  Who do you know that is planning an event–a conference, an open house, a 10K fundraiser–who could use your financial support?  To strengthen your relationship with this individual, offer as much help from your business as you can provide.

Have you sponsored an event in the past?  If so, I’d love to hear about your experience and how it impacted your relationship with the person in charge of the event.  Please share your story in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

Should Your Target Market Dictate the Networking Groups You Join?

The truth is, if you choose a networking group that focuses entirely on your target market, chances are you’ll be in a group of people who are a lot like you.  Sounds like a good thing, you say?  Well, it’s not.  A group that consists of a whole lot of people like you tends to hang out together in other settings and is likely to have a lot of the same contacts as you.  This limits the size of your network, and the diversity as well.  It’s good to have some people like you in  your group, of course, but it’s important to have  people who are not like you as well.   Never assume that someone who is in a totally different industry or social group or market from you can’t possibly know anybody you’d like to meet and do business with.  You never know who they know.

 

Even if you share a target market with many others in the group, you can’t really tell from the roster or by collecting business cards at the first meeting how effective they’ll be as referral sources.  You have to be in the group a while before you begin to know who they know and how likely they are to pass along good referrals.  Much of this information comes up in open networking before and after the meeting: “Tell me about some of your favorite clients.  Who do you like working with and why?  What kind of work do you like to do best?”  It takes weeks, sometimes months, to develop the kinds of relationships that bear fruit–and until then, you never know who they know.

Groups that are built primarily on a social model tend to be homogenous.  It’s simple human nature for people to cluster in groups according to age, education, income, profession, race, neighborhood, social status, religion, and so forth.  Hanging out with similar people makes it easier to carry on conversations, share similar experiences, gossip, and compare notes.  It does not tend to expose one to new experiences or new points of view, and it especially does not provide many opportunities to open new frontiers in business or marketing.

I’ve run across many people over the years who want to form business-to-business networks.  They think, I’m after this market, so therefore I need people just like me all around me.  So who do they get?  They get people who are just like themselves.  This includes people in businesses that are much like their own and who may not want to share their databases with others.  It includes some people who have the same kinds of contacts, sometimes even the exact same individuals.  Forming a group with such similar people for the purpose of generating referrals is usually a big mistake.  (Telling people it’s a mistake is a little like telling a boxer, “Lean into the punch!”  It’s counterintuitive.  Most people don’t believe it until you explain why.)

Never assume that someone who is in a totally different industry or social group or market from you can’t possibly know anybody you’d like to meet and do business with.  You never know who they know.

Networks tend to form naturally among clusters of people who are like each other and who know each other to varying degrees.  Your friends tend to be friends with one another.  However, if you want a powerful network, you obviously want different contacts and different kinds of contacts.  Diversity is key in a referral group, and not only in the classic sense of diversity–race, gender, religion, ethnicity–but diversity in types of businesses.  We’ve run into people who didn’t want to join a referral network because there was a painting contractor in the group who came to the meeting wearing overalls.  But in fact, painting contractors often have great contacts.  You never know whose houses they are painting or what kind of connections they’ve made.

A diverse set of personal contacts enables you to include connectors or linchpins  in your network–people who have overlapping interests or contacts and can easily and naturally link your group with other, different clusters of people.  These people,  according to Wayne Baker in his book Achieving Success through Social Capital” are the gateways.  They create shortcuts across ‘clumps’ of people.  The strongest networking groups are those that are diverse in many ways;  these are the ones that tend to have the most linchpins.   A master networker strives to become a linchpin between as many networks as possible.

You never know who someone knows.  Please share with me any experience that you’ve had with this concept.

 

7 Ways to Connect with Networking Partners

1.  Arrange a one-to-one meeting. Meeting a referral source in person is an excellent opportunity to learn more about his business and interests. Prepare some questions in advance so that the conversation flows smoothly. Be ready to give an update on your business and to ask lots of questions about your source’s interests.

2.  Extend an invitation. Invite a referral source to a networking event. Introducing her to other businesspeople you know gives your source an opportunity to meet others in your target market and may also provide new business opportunities.

3.  Set up an activity. A recreational activity, such as a golf outing, fishing trip, concert or play, is a great opportunity to let your referral source see a different side of you in an informal setting. The activity should be one that will give everybody time to relax, but it may also include an element of information such as a speech or educational presentation. To maximize the effectiveness of your time with your sources, you should invite no more than four people and spend at least one hour with each.

4.  Arrange a group activity for clients. Gathering your clients together creates an excellent environment for synergy and for raising your credibility with all. The one thing the people in this group will definitely have in common is you, so you’ll certainly be the focus of a good many conversations. Group activities may be social, such as a barbecue or a ball game, or they may be educational, such as a seminar or demonstration.

5.  Nominate a referral source. Watch for opportunities to nominate a referral source for an award. Local service and civic organizations often present annual awards recognizing contributions to a particular cause, and local periodicals often sponsor awards contests for businesspeople. Find out what groups and interests your referral source is involved in, and check to see if there is any form of recognition associated with them.

6.  Include a source in your newsletter. Even a brief mention of a referral source in your newsletter can pay dividends down the road, including the opportunity for your source to reciprocate with his newsletter.

7.  Arrange a speaking engagement. Help your referral source get in front of a group that would be interested in her business or area of expertise. Local chapters of service organizations, such as Rotary and Kiwanis, are always looking for good speakers. If you belong to a group that invites people to speak, use your contacts to help your source make the rounds among various chapters.

What are some other ways that you recommend to stay in contact with your networking partners?

Three Essential Questions

How can a time-strapped businessperson figure out which networking events she should attend and which she should let go by the wayside? 

The answer: Develop a networking strategy.

Here are three easy–but definitely essential–questions you need to answer in order to create a plan that will work for you. 

Who Are My Best Prospects? 
It’s important to know that each target market will have a strategy that requires you to network in different places. If you’re not sure who your target market is, look at your list of past clients. What industries were they in? How long had they been in business? Were your clients even businesses to begin with, or have you worked mostly with consumers?

Once you’ve put together a profile of your past clients, ask people close to you for patterns you may have overlooked and get their input on who might be a good fit for your business.

Where Can I Meet My Best Prospects?
As you begin targeting specific niche markets, there are other venues and opportunities that fall outside the typical networking event.  Here are some examples of specific target markets and where you should network to find people in these markets:

Small-business owners–chamber of commerce, local business association, referral groups

Representatives from big corporations in your area–service clubs, nonprofit groups, volunteer work, homeowners associations

Consumers–your kids’ events: Little League, Boy Scouts and so forth

Whom, Exactly, Do I Want To Meet?
Even if you can’t name the people you want to meet, the better you can descibe them, the greater the chance you’ll get to meet your ideal contact.

Be as specific as possible when asking for a contact because it focuses the other person’s attention on details that are more likely to remind him of a specific person rather than if you asked, “Do you know anyone who needs my services?”

Networking works.  It’s just a matter of developing a strategy that puts you in contact with the right people. That’s exactly what the three questions above will help you do.

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