Target Relevant Groups and Connections
Identify and target groups and connections which are relevant to your aims and capabilities. Relevance can be according to several different things, for example:
- Social grouping (e.g., ethnic, gender, age, seniority, etc)
- Political or religious grouping
- Trade or society grouping
- Academic or technical grouping
- Specifically organized networking/referrals groups
- Other common interest (e.g., social enterprise, environmental, Fair Trade, etc)
The more relevant your targeting of groups and contacts, then more useful your meetings and referrals will be. Other professional people can be important networking contacts. Direct your targeting beyond obvious business people and obvious networking groups, but be mindful of the nature of the group, and conduct yourself appropriately. Consider how different groups and networks operate, online and elsewhere. Some networking commentators/writers refer to 'hard contact' and 'soft contact' networking groups (and to 'hard contacts' and 'soft contacts'). Essentially these 'hard' and 'soft' terms differentiate between groups where there is:
- Clear agreement and purpose to produce business referrals for each other, and
- Where a group has no significant aim or expectation of referring business.
Be aware of the group's needs, expectations, rules (official and unofficial) and membership composition (formal or entirely random) and adapt your style and methods accordingly. Certain non-business professional people can be hugely influential in business networking and greatly trusted because of their neutrality and professional standing - educators and scientists, for example. Journalists, surgeons, and magistrates, also.
There are many others. It is not easy to make connections with these people through conventional business networking, but remember that a network is not only made of business-people, and be awake to these non-commercial connections when the chance comes. If you find that your networking is producing very low opportunities for follow up and referral, try to improve your targeting. Find different groups and methods, in other words. A true business network is a connected system of people within which referrals and opportunities can be passed through several connections, or circulated to all those connected.
Business Networking thus can extend far beyond simply having lots of random one-to-one meetings. A given number of people who are connected for a reason will generally be more productive than the same number of random connections. So don't go aimlessly after every networking opportunity which comes your way; instead try to find networks which already function well or have the potential to do so; and consider and decide which sort of groups and contacts will be most helpful for your aims and capabilities - ideally remembering that you need to be able to help them, as well as they should be able to help you.
Within most networks people tend to have a few close and trusted connections. Choose these, your most trusted and closest associates, very carefully. Reputations are built according to your chosen contacts, in addition to how you yourself behave. The old expression is generally true: "You can tell a man by the company he keeps..." (Or woman of course.) So focus your efforts on groups and connections of integrity, as well as relevance. You can identify your target group criteria in your networking strategy or plan, explained next.
Plan Your Business Networking - Know What You Want - Manage It
All projects need managing. Business networking is a project and so it needs managing. You can use various tools to manage your networking. You must manage your networking or it will manage you. Some people plan with shapes and connections on a big sheet of paper. Others prefer a spreadsheet. Use whatever you find comfortable. Be able to plan and monitor your networking activities.
"It is important to know exactly what you want, because you will be asked - very directly by powerful potential contacts - and you will need to give a clear answer."
An activity which has no clear planned outcomes is liable to be pulled in all sorts of unwanted directions. As with any project, you will only move towards your aim when you keep focused on that aim. If you don't know what to plan, then probably some research is necessary: In terms of evaluating and choosing a potential networking group - especially a big online community - investigate the tactics that successful members are using. Ask a leading member for pointers. This will help you assess the group's relevance to your needs and strengths. You will save yourself from attending time-wasting events, and registering with time-wasting websites, if you do some research before committing valuable time to deeper involvement.
A plan is vital because business networking can be a very time-consuming activity. Have some targets and measurable
, and monitor results. A structured approach can be especially important for very sociable networkers. Business networking can be a very enjoyable activity, and for some people can seem a lot more productive than it actually is, so stay mindful of business results and cost-effectiveness. Here is a simple example for planning and monitoring networking, which extends the elevator speech template above. Just use the headings as a guide if you prefer to work more intuitively, or if you favour a certain type of planning method.
Obviously alter the box sizes to allow for whatever content you want to insert. The framework can be extended to manage specific follow-ups. The example above doesn't necessarily suggest you begin with three groups, or limit your business networking activities to three groups. A sensible start might be to pick one business networking website, and one face-to-face business networking group or event, and see how you do before increasing the activity. As you will see from the sustained focused effort point, business networking works best when it is attacked in a concentrated way. If you take on too many groups and websites at the same time you will be spread too thinly, and find it difficult to make an impact in any of them.
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