Networking: Balancing Focus and Exploration
What is effective networking?
Most of us realize that networking is a good way to market our businesses. When we meet people, we have the possibility of inviting someone to start a relationship. To grow our businesses we need those relationships. But do we want just any relationships? Yes and No. Certainly if we’ve identified a sweet spot of clients that we want to target, it might be best to go where the clients are, such as a trade association meeting or a defined group where clients with similar needs congregate. However, if we don’t ever go anywhere else or meet people who are different than our target, we get stuck in a rut, we get myopic about possible new client groups and we don’t have anything new to offer to ourselves or our clients. So we need to balance our activities between those networking activities that are very targeted and focused (driving toward a goal) and those that we purposely engage in to expand ourselves into the unknown (dancing with possibilities).
What this points out is that you should be very aware of your networking goals to have the most return on the time and money spent. Networking is not a haphazard sport. Certainly networking should be focused on you giving to others. Eventually what comes around goes around.
When you decide to go to an event, be aware if you are choosing that event to be focused or exploratory. Select one or two of these goals. It will effect how you speak and the people you select to speak with. I know you know that trying to sell someone is a no-no. And it’s so annoying when someone thrusts a card in your face without establishing a relationship. If you just try to give out a lot of your cards, you’re disrespecting the other person. You’re looking at that person as a commodity rather than as a unique individual who deserves a personal relationship with you.
Focused goals for when you have a specific target
1. Start a conversation with a new prospect
2. Find a vendor to fill a specific need
3. Make friends (find a support group) especially if you’re new to an area
4. Invite people to another event (one you’re running)
5. Get supporters for a non-profit organization/project that you volunteer for
6. Find a potential employer or links to an employer (if looking for a job or career change)
7. Spread awareness of your brand, knowledge, expertise (be the speaker)
8. Get feedback on a new idea (like running an informal focus group)
9. Find a good connection to a target market (develop a center of influence)
10. Find someone else who targets your target market with a noncompetitive product so you can establish a strategic alliance.
Exploratory goals that unfold when you’re open to possibilities
11. Find resources that you can recommend to clients (delight your clients with your ‘golden rolodex’)
12. Learn about something you’ve never been exposed to before (network outside your comfort zone)
13. Find people you can connect to your other networking contacts (law of reciprocity)
14. Expand your circle of contacts for your future ever expanding needs (requires a proactive mindset about your company’s growth)
Of course these are the goals that determine the quality of the relationships that result from your networking strategy. Don’t forget to determine the quantity as well. Do you want to start relationships with 3 new women in your sweet spot? Or is it 4?
Before you go to a network event, choose your goal, close your eyes and envision what you want to happen. Examples: You’ll talk to a specific person who you went to meet because you knew he would be there. You come away with 3 quality prospects who have agreed to establish appointments with you. You meet two people who said they’d take a look at your resume and forward it to a contact in the industry where you’re seeking a job. One person has opened your eyes to a world that you weren’t aware of before and you’re going to talk more about it over lunch next Wed. You found a great contact for one of your clients who needs a specific service. You found someone you can refer to Joe who keeps sending you leads.
Leverage this activity to grow your business. Respect yourself, value your time and resources. Use them wisely to get the most impact for your investment. Always – networking should be fun. So enjoy!