Inspiring And Enabling People
To Make A Difference
In recent years the opportunity to extend your influence, develop connections and build relationships beyond your immediate circle of associates, colleagues and friends has been made a lot easier thanks to the development of multiple online networks and the proliferation of clubs, societies and groups on your doorstep. Indeed, just in the last month, three new “networks” have launched in my town creating three new opportunities for me to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with local business owners, discussing opportunities, sharing knowledge and making referrals. Alternatively, I could look at them as three new opportunities to distract me from the short-term objective of getting money into my business.
So, where to start? The answer, as is often the case when a strategic problem arises, is at the end. You need to decide what you want to achieve out of your networking? Is it a 50% improvement to the bottom-line or is it to gain access to a specific group or individual? Is it to build the profile of your business in advance of an AIM listing or is it to build your knowledge and skills with a group of like-minded people? Whatever your reasons, you need to write them down. Once your goal is clear, you will find that your decisions and activities will also become more focused. Now it’s just a case of chipping away at your goal, one new connection at a time.
Whenever I am in conversation with someone who is considering becoming better networked I always advise them that networking will deliver at best a medium term return on their investment. True there are innumerable intangible benefits on the way such as new friendships, exciting new insights and a lot of fun, but for those who are results oriented these can be inconsequential and frustrating distractions. The key is to stay focused but leave the door open for serendipity. For example, one client of mine was so focused on gaining access to the key influencers inside his target retail client that he turned down the opportunity to attend a charity golf event as it did not involve anyone from the industry and was mostly attended by retired “city” guys. The local paper covered the event the following week, and there, holding up the winners cup was the Finance Director from his target client – apparently a late replacement for his father (you guessed it, a retired “city” guy). It took my client another eight long months before he finally developed a relationship that got him into his target organisation. Sometimes you walk by the right ones because you’re trying too hard to see them. Remember, you can count the seeds in an apple but you can’t count the apples in the seed.
Once you’ve set your networking goal, here’s a 5 Step plan to achieve it.
1) Plan for each event – this needn’t take hours, just get the attendee list, highlight the individuals you would like to talk to, grab your business cards and get going. Even this amount of planning will put you ahead of 95% of the other people there!
2) Make a memorable first impression – if you are genetically outside of average, this can be ticked off straight away (you wouldn’t forget someone who is 6′ 10″ would you?), otherwise, what can you do to make a memorable impression? Maybe it’s an item of clothing or an accessory, maybe you can practice some jokes and make people laugh, maybe you can be a great introducer or perhaps you just have a smile and a persona that lights up the room? Whatever, just ensure that you do not fade into the “wall of suits”. Afterall, your aim when networking is for people to remember you long enough that they can refer you confidently, and if their mental image of you is a blur, you are not doing yourself any favours. Seek advice from friends and relatives until you discover something that you are comfortable with AND helps you to stand out.
3) Employ the Caring principle – remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care! In the networking context that means listening to them, intently. Build rapid rapport through active and literal listening, matching body language and even speech moderation. Do whatever it takes to help the other person relax in your company and you will have the foundation of a great relationship.
4) Have some Networking Enlisting Words – and use them to help people remember what you do. Scientists have estimated that we are exposed to more than 2 million messages a day – so how can you make your message stick? The answer is, with difficulty. Remember that you are trying to develop advocates not recruit customers so be excrutiatingly specific about who you help, what you do and with what results. Don’t worry about all the things you don’t cover with these words, people will make assumptions or ask questions if they understand at least one thing that you do. So, if you are an expert in stress relief, don’t say “I can help anyone suffering with stress” because that does not help me. Instead, focus on one key ailment (maybe long-term shoulder pain) and tell me what amazing results you have achieved with a recent client. I will make the mental leap about your overall competence and maybe even ask if you also cover back pain, but more importantly, I might know or be a potential client for your shoulder services! At the next meeting, focus on another area.
5) Follow Up – or everything you have done before is wasted!
So, we’ve got a goal, we’ve even got a 5 Step implementation plan, do we need anything else? Yes we do, we need to measure our progress and success, otherwise networking will become another bucket for lost time in our business. Measurement transforms networking from an activity that we feel we ought to be doing into a powerful strategic tool. The image of the Networking Scorecard above will give you an idea of how it looks, please feel free to email me if you’d like a formatted pdf version.