19 Oct 2010

Ten ways to network more strategically

Networking is always listed as one of, if not, the most important thing to do when building or looking to expand a business. As many know doing so effectively is more easily said than done. A great deal of time can be spent talking to people who don’t want or need your products or services and who are not necessarily connected to someone who does. This is the most common complaint about networking groups and functions. However, strategically addressing this situation is a sure-fire way to build the network you want and steer clear of those you don’t. Here are ten steps to help entrepreneurs spend their networking time wisely.

Ten Tips for Strategic Networking

1. Know your product or service’s target market. Does the event fit with your business? There is no point in attending a networking event for small business owners if your target market is large size companies. Ask yourself will there be people on site interested in your product/service or one degree removed from those who are? If not, choose a different event – one these individuals do attend.
2. Create a set of criteria by which to evaluate networking events. Include the quality of the people you meet and speak with. Determine if these are the type of people who can be of help to you and whether the event is the type of event you need to attend.
3. Set networking goals. For example decide how many people you want to connect with before you go. If you have half an hour of “networking time” consider setting yourself the goal of connecting with 3-4 people. Connecting with a large number of people can be less effective than actually listening to someone and learning about their business. Use your time to start new relationships and enhance existing one, rather than appear to be insincerely glad handing.
4. Looking to building specific relationships? If so avoid “all aboard” events where 100’s of people attend. Assuming you are bound to meet a valuable connection because there will be 300 or 3,000 people in the room is a little like looking for a needle in a haystack. If you need a specific connection think first and foremost about where or how you’ll connect and go from there. Consider going to events and presentations that are of interest to your connections. Learning about what interests those who may help you will enhance your ability to better understand and serve them.
5. Connect with people whose target market can afford and see the value in your products and services. There is no point is marketing a product to those who can not afford to purchase it, whether they see the value in it or not. If you really want to provide services for those who need them, but can’t afford them either create a less expensive product or donate some time to helping them out.
6. Talk to people who your target market buys from. Build relationships with these individuals. If your business sells high-end IT solutions consider connecting with others who are providing services to those you’d like as clients.
7. Support events/organizations that provide services and products to your target market. This can be done easily through sponsorship opportunities or if time allows get involved. Those you support with your time are more likely to recommend you when the opportunity presents itself.
8. Go with a partner. Discuss beforehand what you are looking for from this group or event. Is there something in particular you want to learn, someone or some organization you want to meet, learn about and connect with, or are you simply looking for an outing. All of these are valid goals. Soloentrepeneurs especially need to get out now and then. Make a plan to compare notes and share insights with your networking buddy to maximize your opportunities. If you do go alone these questions are still worth answering before you go
9. If you are pressed for time, be honest with yourself if networking at this particular moment in time is time well spent and not an act of procrastination.
10. Force rank events. Compare events. Determine what you like, don’t like, and what works for you and your business. If you choose to attend an ongoing networking group or event consider attending at least three times before deciding whether or not it’s the right one for you and your business.

I’ve often heard people say “well I go to be seen so people remember me”. Building awareness is good, but if it does not translate into sales, be certain there are real benefits to you and your business before you continue spending scarce time resources building “awareness”.
Though strategic networking is a far better approach to networking than showing up everywhere and getting no where, it is not, nor should it ever be, the only reason to join a group or networking association. It is always important for you, a complex being, to join organizations you personally feel strong about or that you believe will support you. Growing oneself through selfless service may or may not be of help to your business directly, but it will always help your business indirectly, by helping you to become the best person you can be; one for whom business is part of life and not life itself.

Strategic networking enables you to free up time to do the other things that make your life successful, whatever you choose them to be. Time is our scarcest commodity. Spend yours well.

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