For many people, networking means attending after-hour events, collecting a few cards and handing out some of their cards. This form of networking—social networking—doesn’t always produce results. On the other hand, businesspeople who think of networking as a proactive marketing tool leverage their business and connections to gain a regular stream of new business.
In their book, The 29% Solution, authors Ivan R. Misner and Michelle R. Donovan, present 52 weekly networking success strategies—a step-by-step process that will help you network effectively and gain new business. This article presents 26 of these strategies.
Week 1: Set networking goals.
Create goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timed with a deadline. An example of such a goal is: “I will achieve a 30 percent increase in my annual referral business from networking in [name of the networking group] by Dec. 31.”
Week 2: Block out time to network.
Figure out how much time you will dedicate to networking each week. What percentage of your marketing budget will you dedicate to word of mouth? How many meals will you eat with someone else? How many new people do you want to meet each week? What other methods do you want to use to generate business? You need to spend enough time (seven hours) on your networking activities every week.
Week 3: Profile your preferred client.
Take a good look at what makes a company or individual a perfect fit for you. Then ask yourself why that company or person is a perfect match. What does your preferred client need that you offer? What problems does this client have that you can solve better than your competitors? Create a list of preferred clients based on the above questions.
Week 4: Recruit your word-of-mouth marketing team.
These are people who can provide unsolicited testimonials to help you promote your business. They need to be in front of your preferred client on a regular basis, but for a reason different from yours. They should know you well and like you a lot, they should be influential so that others will listen to them and they should have firsthand experience with your services. Potential members for advisors include divorce attorneys, personal CPAs and mediators.
Week 5: Give to others first.
By doing so, you take the initial step in building two-way, win-win relationships. When you hear a person talking about his problems such as a surprise tax bill, refer a colleague in your network who can help him. Talk about your colleague's business and give the person your colleague's business card.
Week 6: Create a network relationship database.
Invest in database and contact-management software that helps you maintain contact information of your clients, prospects, word-of-mouth team members, etc. Within the database, keep track of how specific people help you, what you do for them, how often you meet with them, who they want to meet, and other significant information (birthdays, anniversaries) that will give you a reason to connect with them. This will help you notice patterns—who gives you the highest number of referrals and which referrals turn into business.
Week 7: Master the top 10 traits.
Successful networkers have some common traits, including timely following up on referrals, a positive attitude, enthusiasm, trustworthiness, good listening skills, commitment to networking 24/7, gratitude, helpfulness, sincerity and a dedication to working the network.
People tend to connect with others based on shared interests and similar perspectives. But if you limit yourself to one circle of friends and colleagues, your business’ exposure will also be limited. On the other hand, a diverse network increases your chances of connecting to linchpins—people who serve as connectors among two or more groups of people with different interests and contacts.
Week 9: Meet the right people.
It’s important to understand that it’s not about who you know; it's how well you know them and how well they know you that really counts in building a powerful network. This means that your network should not only be broad; it must also be deep so that when you rely on others to help you, you already have strong relationships with them before you express your need or request.
Week 10: Reconnect with people from the past.
Are there people from the past that you have not contacted in a while? These are people you may communicate with just twice a year. It’s a good idea to let them know what's going on in your business because you never know who they might know and how they may be able to help you. But remember to offer them something in return. One-sided relationships do not last.
Week 11: Talk to your family.
Your family members know you best and support your endeavors. Remember that an average person knows between 200 and 300 people. So why wouldn’t they refer their friends and colleagues to you?
Week 12: Don’t be a cave dweller.
Do you usually socialize with the same group of coworkers every day? If you do, you are part of a closed network that limits your connections to a small group of people who don’t change. You need to change this behavior and practice networking (Read strategies for weeks 3 and 4).
Week 13: Join an online group.
Join an online networking community to build relationships. Some of the most popular business online forums are LinkedIn.com, Ecademy.com and Ryze.com. But remember that effective networking, whether online or in person, is based on trust.
Week 14: Become magnetic.
In business, this means that you are recognized as the go-to person who has a broad network and the person who knows people who can solve problems. The second aspect of being magnetic relates to approachability. People must perceive you as being open to their advances.
Week 15: Be a value-added friend.
When you help someone meet a goal, you instantly become a value-added friend—an asset to the person. You build a relationship that’s strong and deep. Set out to develop your next relationship in the same manner.
Week 16: Become a catalyst.
A catalyst is someone who makes things happen. To become one, you need to take initiatives, and be confident and motivated. Make it a goal to network your business by becoming a catalyst. Reach out to a value-added friend and tell him about your goal. Then ask him for his help in networking your business.
Week 17: Find an accountability partner.
People tend to perform better when they are being held accountable to someone else, particularly someone they respect. Find an accountability partner for all the weekly goals you have set for yourself. Find a business colleague who you respect and who will not be afraid to push you.
Week 18: Volunteer and be visible.
People need to know you, like you and trust you in order to refer you. Volunteering can help you meet key people in your community. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate your talents, skills and integrity. Find a volunteering position with organizations or causes for which you have a genuine interest or concern.
Week 19: Send a thank-you card.
When someone goes the extra mile for you, send him a card. Giving a referral, making an in-person introduction, helping with an event or solving a problem are good opportunities to thank people. But don’t include your business card. This isn’t about pushing your business on someone else who has not asked for it.
Week 20: Follow-up today.
Your ability to follow up on what you say you are going to do and when you say you’re going to do it is critical in building credibility and networking your business. Create a follow-up system to keep track of your networking partners, meetings and appointments, and their professional needs and personal interests.
Week 21: Be “on” 24/7.
This doesn’t mean that you have to be constantly selling your products or services. Instead, be on the lookout for opportunities to help people wherever possible. This way, you’re creating meaningful relationships and building your social capital.
Week 22: Learn to play golf or something.
The whole idea is to create an environment that’s convivial and forges relationships. Such activities include being part of a bowling league, a softball team, a bird-watching society, a badminton team, a billiards group or a book club. But be sure to invite the right people to these events, which also must have an element of exclusivity in order to work.
Week 23: Have purposeful meal meetings.
This is nothing more than a meeting that includes a meal and a specific, meaningful purpose of networking. The goal may be to further develop the relationship, help a colleague solve a problem, or teach someone how to talk about your business to his own network members.
Week 24: Make first impressions count.
It takes only seven seconds for a person to size you up during your first meeting. Take a look in the mirror before leaving your house and ask yourself: “What message am I sending to those who are meeting me for the first time? What opinions will they have of me before I even open my mouth?” Also, become more aware of your body language by getting feedback. Take someone to your next networking function and ask him to give you feedback on your body language.
Week 25: Seek a referral networking group.
BNI is the world’s largest business networking and referral organization that provides a structured system for generating business by referrals. Visit www.BNI.com to explore the opportunities provided by BNI groups near you. Make an appointment to visit a chapter close by.
Week 26: Join a chamber of commerce.
Check out your local chamber of commerce and request membership information. Ask for the names of members you can contact. Attend a couple of events to see whether the membership is a good fit for you. Take your time to locate a chamber that will adequately meet your needs and the needs of your business.