Contrary to many headlines and Facebook posts: networking is neither dead nor useless.
It probably is over-used and badly used. But it still remains an essential tool for business growth.
I recently did a series of Consultant Corner videos about how to prepare and follow up for networking and meetings. Here I look at that and the bigger picture of how and why to network at all.
People are what you need to grow and improve your business.
In the obvious sense that you need clients to buy from you. But in many other ways as well.
You have to know what is happening in your market place, if you want to be ahead of market changes and customer preferences, you need anecdotal information as well as data. Interacting with peers as well, means learning more about your trade and finding ways to hone your skills. And the truth is: you never quite know where the next opportunity will present itself. Through a business connection, a competitor, and for a new client review, a collaboration, an interview, etc.
In other words, you always want to be ready to meet
- Clients – and find new markets you might not have otherwise considered
- Referral opportunities – working with other service providers who interact with your same market
- Business partners – who may call you in for a new project collaboration, a podcast interview, a speaking opportunity, or even simply invite you to a networking lunch with your target market
Once you have determined the markets of value – in other words where you can make the three types of connection described above – choose your networking venues.
Check out my earlier post about tactical networking for some concrete examples of where to network.
Then make your plan and start attending events.
Prepare before hand
Before each event you attend, ask yourself: why is this worth my time? What do I hope to achieve? What do I expect to achieve?
Who must I meet in order to achieve it? What must I learn? What information must I share?
This is true for group networking events and for the 1:1 meetings that happen as a follow up, with people you will meet there.
Determine how this time and money will turn out being useful to you and prepare to maximize each networking opportunity.
Continue the work after the event
The event or encounter itself is there for future success. You can’t expect to get the client or new opportunity directly at the event (and if that does happen, it’s a perk).
Rather think of it as a forward step in a process.
This stresses the importance of the follow up.
Do it quickly. Don’t wait a day or two, as soon as you are back at your desk send those follow up messages.
Even more importantly: map out how this connection is going to be impactful on your business. Feel free to predict several steps ahead, and then start acting on that plan. Confirm any action points discussed and offer the next step and opportunity to meet.
Remember: you have a plan to success and this is one of those steps. So don’t let your networking efforts end when you walk out of the event door. Make them count for the long run.