To be a masterful networker, you don’t need to attend every event in town or schmooze with ever person you meet. What you do need is a strategy.
Consider the following five steps for creating a successful networking strategy. The goal here is to connect in meaningful ways- the kind that leads to success for both your business and theirs.
1. Know your target audience.
This may sound like an overly obvious point. Most people, though, don’t keep their target audience and goals in mind nearly as much as they should when networking. This is key. You need to be clear in your mind about who it is that will buy from you and benefit from your services. Clarity will allow you to detect when a good potential referral or referral source comes along (i.e. someone who has direct access to or influence with your target audience.) Your strategy should start with a thorough team brainstorm. Put together a list of businesses, organizations and individuals in your community who have pull with your target audience. Even if you have no current relationship, don’t leave any influential contact off this initial list.
2. Identify key influencers YOU can help.
The next step is to streamline your list of influencers, and identify which businesses (or individuals) YOU can bring the most value to. That's right. Networking is not all about ‘getting'; in fact, it's quite the opposite. Providing value is the best incentive you can offer these ‘influencers’ to develop a relationship with you. The end result is that you will be top of mind when their clients require your products, services, or expertise as a business leader. (Side note: the idea is to categorize the list by who you know and who you can benefit. I recommend building upon this list with your team as you develop more relationships and potentially inroads to the people you don’t currently know.) LinkedIn is a great tool for finding out who knows who.
3. Go where the chemistry is.
Like any relationship, if it is to be successful there needs to be chemistry. So pursue relationships from your target list and focus on the ones you have a natural connection with, mutual trust, and a shared target market. Be strategic about who on your team is able to develop the most solid relationship with any particular contact.
4. Be a connector yourself.
As you move forward with approaching some of these potential contacts, introduce them to one another whenever it is mutually beneficial. For example, you might introduce a graphic designer to a programmer, a banker to an accountant, or a marketing expert to a business that requires their services. It's a triple-win for everyone, especially for you if you're seen as the "connector".
5. Network online and off.
Bring your networking approach everywhere you are- on LinkedIn, Twitter, FB and Pinterest. Use hashtags and appropriate links on Twitter and FB to share and make introductions. Give “recommendations” and write “referrals” on LinkedIn. Taking a few moments to offer value to others is a simple step and it demonstrates that you’re both a thoughtful and motivated networker; the kind people tend to want to do business with.
Effective networking comes down to a good strategy, relationship building and providing value. I recommend you document your strategy, bring your team on board, and get creative with the opportunities at your fingertips.