We all think we know how to network. I mean, it seems simple on the surface, right? You arrive at the event, well-dressed, grab some drinks and just start working the room. You talk to everyone, exchange information and maybe business cards, and move on. Easy. But what if there was something else you should be doing to maximize the returns of your social network strategy?
In this post, we will examine how to build a personal networking strategy that will maximize your efficiency at these events. This strategy will give you focus, direction, and an overall game plan to take with you to all networking events. A good networking strategy will give you solid goals and well-planned ways to achieve these goals.
Here you have five steps to help you develop a good networking strategy:
Step 1: Set Goals.
What do you want to achieve as a result of networking? Do you want people to invest in your business? Do you want someone to talk to you about a job you can do for them? Or a job they can do for you? Specific goals will help focus your conversation at networking events. No point in talking to a person about her perfume business when your goal involves automobiles! Additionally, solid goals are what get you out the door in the first place. If you don’t really have a plan, you just kind of decided to show up and “see what happens”, what are the chances you will carry through and go to the event after a long, hard day at work? If you have an achievable, well-defined goal, you’re much more likely to carry through on your plan of attending the event.
Step 2: Review.
Alright, you’ve gotten out the door and are now at the event. Good for you! But you know that just showing up isn’t the whole deal. Now it’s time to go to work. Step 2 involves a lot of judgment. You see, you are actually networking all the time. Texting, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and any other means of communication is essentially networking. As with any network, there are strong and weak members. So you have to assess: are you networking effectively? Even if you’re doing it all the time, are you talking to the right people at the right time? Who in your network can help you achieve your goal? What is your plan for developing a relationship with these people? Some people respond best to lunches, some to emails, some need communication weekly whereas others are fine going for months without hearing a word. Assess your people. Form a plan of communication and follow through.
Step 3: Research.
Ok, you figured out who you need to talk to. Now, where are they? How will you engage with them? Emails, bike rides, lunches, events for their profession…these are all good and viable ways to interact with your chosen people. Humans are social creatures, and when you engage with them in an activity they already enjoy, they are much more likely to listen and help you in your progress. The other good thing about this stage is that it causes a ripple effect. If you find out where one person is, chances are they are going to be with similar people, widening your network and increasing the contacts that may help you in your goals.
Step 4: Build Relationships.
Getting acquainted is easy. Everyone goes to networking events to get acquainted. Progressing from that stage to a more solid relationship with your connection is another battle in and of itself. At this point, it’s time to stop counting contacts and start counting conversations. There’s no point to a thousand person strong network if you only talk to these people once a year. Of course, you can’t maintain a solid relationship with a thousand people. Or even fifty. Now you need to prioritize your people – who will lead to the most lucrative work, or the greatest progress, and who will get you there the fastest? Rank people according to a system, like this one:
A-lister – a person who will likely help you obtain your goal, or part of your goal, in the short term.
B-lister – a person who will help you obtain your goals, but not right now
C-lister – someone who is not likely to be able to help at all
Once you list people out like this, you’ll find the distribution is like a pyramid, with very few people in the A and B slots and most people falling into the C slot. That’s okay! It’s very unlikely that your goal is so easy or so broad that most people could help you with it. And all you need are a few good, solid connections to get you going. These few people are the ones you need to focus on, in whatever medium you assess they communicate best in. As you get to know them better, communication will flow more easily and naturally.
Step 5: Maintain.
You can’t just get what you need from your network and then disappear. Not only is that a poor business strategy that focuses only on the self-centered short-term, but it’s also very rude! Maintenance is all about doing just enough to keep your connections friendly and active. Monthly brunches, biweekly emails, telling them about your vacation and asking them about theirs…whatever you would do with an old college friend is fair game.
If you follow this strategy, you’ll find that your networking abilities sore through the roof. With these goals in mind, and with a solid step-by-step of how to obtain them, we are confident that networking will become a well-oiled and efficient machine for your success. All you have to do is plan, assess, locate, build, and maintain your network.
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