Networking is your single most important business activity. It is the best possible career insurance. It is the best possible use of your business development time. And the sooner you embrace it, the more successful you will be.
You must develop a clear strategy to create and maintain a high-quality network. Nearly all my business comes through referrals, and yours will too!
I know, it’s hard. I’m an engineer by background, and networking didn’t come naturally to me. Every time I walked into one of those networking events, I felt like I was at a Junior High dance. If I learned how to network effectively, you can too!
5 Easy Networking Tips from a Former Wallflower
If your business comes from relationships, relationships should be your business.
— Doug Ales
1. Set goals for yourself when you attend an event
In the beginning when I went to a networking event, I would get my glass of wine and stand around the edges for an hour or two. When I got home, I would think, “I don’t get this networking stuff. I never meet anyone!” Eventually I realized that I needed to set goals for myself. Now I only give myself credit for attending the event if I come away with at least one and perhaps as many as five quality people to follow up with. And these are not just people I like. They must be high-quality contacts and they must have the potential for developping a mutually beneficial business relationship.
2. Focus first on the GIVE and second on the GET
If I have something to offer, people are more likely to follow up. If I deliver on that promise, people remember me and call me when they need my consulting expertise. BUT, be careful that you don’t spend all your time helping job hunters.
3. Remember that networking is just the first step towards building new relationships
The goal is to build relationships and networking is only the first step. You will need to follow up with one-on-one meetings, most typically done over coffee. When you’re meeting with busy decision-makers, make it easy for them.
4. Determine how you will measure the success of your networking efforts
If you don’t measure it, it won’t happen. You need to determine how you will measure your networking success, and these metrics should connect to your revenue. Use these metrics to evaluate where you spend your networking time every 3-6 months. Talk to your colleagues about networking events so you can find the most productive places.
5. Implement a plan to keep in touch with your existing network FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE
It’s good to focus on new contacts, but make sure you have a plan to maintain existing relationships. The goal is to build long-term relationships. On average, I find that the time between meeting someone new and them referring business to me is about three to five years. That doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally meet someone who sends a great client to me right away, but it’s not the norm. It’s a long-term play. Have a strategy to nurture your existing connections.
And if you remember nothing else, remember this:
Never stop networking.
Never, ever stop networking.
AND NEVER, EVER, EVER STOP NETWORKING!