Do you have a Networking Plan? Would you walk into a business meeting or conduct a presentation without properly preparing beforehand and just leave things to chance? No, then why would you consider leaving your networking opportunities to chance?
When you formalize a networking plan and strategy, you will reach a higher caliber of contacts quicker and begin attending targeted events that aid you in achieving your business goals.
For your homework, you will be creating a Networking Plan. To help you with this assignment I am providing eight steps to get you started in the right direction.
When considering adding an event to your calendar take ample time to learn about the event. Research the event to determine if its focus is in line with your business needs, who will be there to predetermine whether the event fits the targeted type of relationships that will help your business and if the time spent will benefit you. Remember time is money – we all enjoy having fun, but business events should also be productive. So ask yourself:
- What will occur at the event?
- What type of people will attend this event?
- Are these the type of people whose business I can help and whom can help my business?
- What do I want to accomplish at this event?
Once you have determined targeted events to attend, create a list of people you want to meet at each event to build relationships with. If you don’t have specific names at least make a list of industries. This list can include general content such as Titles, Company Name, Industries, Group Board Members etc. or can be specific names of contacts you would like to connect with.
Sharpen your chatting abilities! Create and practice a predetermined list of open-ended questions to ask for learning more information about the contacts you meet, below is a list of 5 examples you can use to get started (Professional Tip: use their name often):
- What do you enjoy the most about attending events like this?
- What does your company do and what role do you hold?
- What type of products/services do you have?
- What do you enjoy most about what you do?
- What marketing/sales activities have you found to be the most successful for your business?
- Bonus small talk question: Can you introduce me to someone that does ___?
TIP: Use the phrase “tell me more” often, this will indicate interest and keep you from dominating the conversation.
Have a list of example questions ready that you can use to ask for referrals to contacts you would like to meet at the event.
- Is there anyone here you can introduce me to who needs (__fill in with your product or service__)?
- I was looking to meet with ____, can you point me in their direction?
- Do you have any suggestions for who I can speak with about ____?
- One of my goals for the evening is to meet with someone who does ____, are you acquainted with someone like that here you can introduce me to?
Find ways to connect other people. Create a list of statements you can use when offering an introduction. Below is a list of examples.
- How many business cards do you have on you? Want to see if we can give them all away?
- Your product/service is a good fit for a friend of mine ____, let me introduce you to him/her.
- The speaker was very interesting, we should go introduce ourselves.
- My colleague ____ is here, we can go say “hi” and I will introduce you.
After Making Contacts at an event – Log Them
You should have a CRM (Customer Relationship Management – system) for keeping track of all your connections. One of the areas you should make note of for each new connection is if; you can help them AND can they help you? When considering if this contact can help you, remember that the purpose of the relationship should not be to get their business, but to get business from everyone they know!
TIP: At an event always have a pen and on the back of the business cards you get write the name of the event, date and something memorable about the connection. You will use this valuable information when doing your follow ups.
After Determining the Valuable Contacts in your CRM – Build a Relationship
- Learn more about the contact(s) business, products and personal interests; consider setting up an initial in-person appointment for about 30minutes – 1 hour, or conduct a brief phone connection if that works better
- Educate them on your company, products, and your personal interests after you learn theirs ‘first’
- Touch base often; try getting together in person whenever possible – group coffee connections are always fun
- After you have built a relationship and developed a level of trust, start introducing them to other appropriate contacts of yours; in turn, they are likely to do the same
Going forward when looking for referrals, vendor recommendations, and general business advice turn to your base of contacts! This is a very powerful tool if you maintain it~
As in your personal life, maintaining a healthy business relationship takes work too; keep these valuable tips in mind, so a contact does not “break up” with you!
- Touch base often, particularly with your “MVP” contacts; go to lunch or dinner, attend an event together, or simply pick up the phone and chat a bit. Handwrite a ‘glad we are connected’ card at least twice a year. One of these connections can be a birthday card. **Make sure you are interacting with their social media content as well.
- Check in with all contacts periodically, to maintain the relationship; even a simple quick email, text saying they were on your mind, or quick card will do the trick!
Tune up your contacts ever so often; as your contact base grows, evaluate which contacts you should be in touch with frequently, or just periodically.
The bonus out of doing this work is that some of your contacts will turn into some of your closest and long-term friendships! The list I have cultivated is where I turn to when I need business advice, vendor recommendations, or even something as simple as a good restaurant suggestion in a particular city!
Using the methods I have shared with you, the contacts you will build relationships with will continue to reach out to send you a steady stream of referrals because you did not start your relationship “selling them” on using your services. You will find that many of my most valuable contacts have never been customers. However, I take the time to listen, to help them and they also take the time to help me by referring business to me. This is what we call a real professional networking relationship it is not about the immediate sell but the long term relationship that brings dozens of new clients to your doorstep because you were first and foremost a value!