Do You Have a Networking Plan? Or Are You Just Winging It?
Congratulations on your new business. Business owners have a vision, are motivated and determined to succeed. Likely, you’ve created a business plan or at the very least, spent considerable effort figuring out your overall goals and desired outcomes. You probably already know that networking is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to market and build your business. But have you given much thought to how to approach your networking strategically?
Time and time again, I see people stumbling into networking without any clear idea of what they are doing or why. It breaks my heart because these same people then get a bad impression of networking and assume that it doesn’t work for them. When they don’t fully know why they are doing networking, it’s certainly more difficult to know where to put their time and energy and what type of results to expect.
It pays to plan ahead. Set your unique networking goals, do your research, develop a strategy and assess your results. Take these simple steps starting now and you will save countless time, money, and a load of frustration. By revisiting and putting these steps to use, you will refine your networking so it can support your business in numerous ways. Some of these ways include marketing, brand management, sales and even connecting you with the best resources for professional development, HR, and strategic partnerships, to name a few.
Use the following to help you think through and set a plan for:
Why you are networking
In the paragraph above you may have noticed that I suggested setting your unique networking goals. Many people assume that networking as a business owner serves only to make sales but it can provide so much more. Think about what your key needs are at each stage of your business growth. Chances are, most of those needs can be served through networking. Especially in the beginning stages, you need to get the word out about your business, gain support, build your reputation, and garner ideas and resources. Each of these things can be effectively and affordably fulfilled through relationship building (otherwise referred to as “networking”).
Where you are networking and with whom
Often, people fall into networking with a group or in a way that isn’t the right fit for their business goals. Perhaps they saw an ad or joined the first networking group they attended without doing much research. Sometimes happy accidents happen and your first networking experiences are rewarding and fulfilling (like love at first sight). Usually, it is best to test the waters and try several different networking experiences to find the ones that work best for you. And remember that networking experiences aren’t always touted as such. Conferences, seminars, and workshops are all great places to not only network but to learn alongside new colleagues who share similar interests and challenges as you.
When and how often you are networking
Consider what works best for your schedule and your energy level. Make a commitment to network regularly. Whether that means once a week or once a month, it’s important to engage with others for ideas, motivation, support, and to lead you to opportunities you wouldn’t find on your own. Seek and maximize quality over quantity. How you are networking
Think through your plan before you enter the event. Know what key point(s) you’d like to share in your introduction. Set an intention for the types of people you hope to meet. As tempting as it may be, don’t immediately head for the food but remind yourself that you are there to expand your network. If you see a familiar face, first try to meet some new people and then don’t glue yourself so tightly to close opportunities for meeting others. (While I do have valuable strategies for networking in pairs, that is an entire subject in itself.)
What you do to leverage results from your networking
Networking doesn’t end when you leave the event. On the contrary, it has just begun. At the event, you sought out the initial sparks for the types of people with whom you’d like to be connected. Now it’s time to assess who you would like to further connect with, how, and why. Determine how you will follow up with them. Get it on your calendar and begin reaching out. As in marketing, consider multiple touches you could provide to stay on their radar. For example, you might start with an email stating it was nice meeting them and sharing a useful resource followed by a connection request on LinkedIn. You might positively comment on something they’ve posted on social media. If it seems like it would be a win/win connection, you might even extend an invitation to meet further. These are just a few of the steps to consider when networking. Set yourself apart from the crowd that is just winging it with their networking. By having a plan, you’ll receive better results from your networking and—dare I say—even enjoy it.
As founder of Win-Win Connects, Teresa Thomas connects people, possibilities, and purpose as an award-winning professional Connector, presenter, networking expert, and author of Win/Win Networking and 50 Fun Things® – Enjoy the Small Things. She was named 2019 Women in Business Champion through the Small Business Administration (SBA) of Minnesota and as a 2019 50 Over 50 exemplary leader by AARP and Pollen. Teresa fosters our interconnectedness and the ways we can lift each other up for success.
Teresa believes networking is really about seeing the interconnectedness between all of us. It is about listening and noticing the ways we can lift each other up.
For more in-depth tips, techniques, templates and checklists to help you with your networking, order a copy of Teresa’s book, Win/Win Networking: Your Guidebook for Confident and Effective Networking (available through Amazon and www.winwinnetworking.com). The book’s interactive style will help you to get clear about why you are networking and how to get the results you seek. For speaking, workshops, or consulting to have better results in your networking, Teresa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
www.teresa-thomas.com | www.winwinnetworking.com
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