“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” This Chinese proverb holds true for networking too.
Whether you have been in business for a while or are a newcomer, it’s important to maintain and nurture your business relationships with intention and a plan.
Begin with a Networking Mindset and then develop a strategy to avoid relying on random chance that you will magically meet the right people.
Networking Mindset. Don’t be “that guy” who shows up at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon shoving business cards at every person who says hello. Adopt a networking mindset of listening, being of service and connecting others who may be able to help each other. To develop a strong network, you have to be in for the long haul – think farmer not hunter. Find out about the other person’s interests and goals, instead of just focusing on what’s in it for you. As you meet someone new you may not be able to give them any business right away, because you have not gotten to know them yet. But, when they mention needing a great web designer or a top-notch painter, you can help them by referring someone from your well-established network that you know provides excellent client care. Creating trust and a symbiotic relationship with those in your network will keep you top of mind when they have an opportunity send referrals your way.
Networking Strategy. In his book, Networking Like A Pro, Dr. Ivan Misner suggests creating a Networking Strategy to make the most effective use of your time and grow your network (and business) with intention. Think strategically and ask yourself the following questions.
- Who are your best prospects? Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh discuss The Art of Selectivity in their book, Super Connector, “People notice the company you keep.” For better or worse, the people we surround ourselves with are a reflection of who we are. Surround yourself with folks you admire and respect. Don’t just haphazardly build a network with anyone who will communicate with you. Find people who’ll have influence over the group, who are already connected in circles that are meaningful to them. Gerber adds, “Superconnectors are selective in everything they do: the time they manage, the company they keep, the people they put around them. It doesn’t mean you are a snob and that you think you are better than everyone else. It just means you’re cognizant of your time.” You’re intentionally spending your time cultivating relationships that can help grow your business and help you to become more successful.
- Where can you meet your best prospects? There are so many options for meeting people. It’s important to focus on where the people you want to meet are spending their time. Identify if you want to meet business owners or consumers, people in a certain geographic area, or interested in a particular activity or hobby. If you own a store specializing in dance clothes and shoes, for example, you will likely have more success building relationships with dance studios and parent groups than within a networking group of financial planners for example. A commercial sign and graphics company who wants to do business with small to medium size businesses will likely find more prospects at the chamber of commerce, business associations, and business networking groups. Be selective and thoughtful when prioritizing the events you would like to attend to expand your network.
- Who do you want to meet? Can you name at least 5 individuals you would like to meet? The more specific you are, the easier it will be for others to introduce you to your ideal contacts. Even if you don’t have specific names of individuals, you need to be able to describe the person you are seeking. For example, a business who specializes in helping families select the best-fit college for their high school juniors wants to meet parents of 10th and 11th graders and probably their guidance counselors as well. With that specific information they will be able to strategically build their network and capitalize on existing contacts.
With your Networking Mindset and Strategy in place you will develop mutually beneficial business relationships. Be intentional about nurturing those relationships and bringing value to each and every one of them.
Kim Ellet is a certified professional coach and owner of The Growth Coach of Metro Atlanta. She finds joy in helping successful leaders committed to continuous improvement, be more of who they are, dream bigger dreams, and accomplish more than they realized was possible. www.TheGrowthCoachATL.com