There are so many ways to network and so many places to network. But the most common complaints I hear from people about networking are:
- You can’t possibly join that many associations – it’s too costly.
- I don’t get any business from that networking group, so I am dropping out.
- I don’t like that group.
I was very lucky to work with a marketing coach early on who advised me to do several things to avoid the above pitfalls. However, I do believe there is a lot of hard work involved, which can result in a lot of busy work if you don’t stay focused. Busy work does not produce revenue, business work does.
Here are my suggestions for purposeful networking:
- Identify your target clients. This sounds easy, but take some time to work with someone who can help you know your market. Be specific. For example, if you ran an in-home non-medical caregiver business, your ideal target client profile would be: A working mom in her 50s who has the responsibility for an aging parent. We’ll call that target client Kathy, and we’ll use Kathy as our example for the balance of this article. (Details matter when describing your target audience.)
- Where do your target clients hang out? Or to use another term, who are your market makers? Market makers are an entity or person who hangs out with your target clients. For example, Kathy likes to hang out in her professional associations and garden clubs. So join the places where Kathy hangs out. Here are some samples of market makers:
a. Business trade associations. i.e. NAWBO, eWomen, WPO.
b. Fortune 500 companies. i.e. Bank of America, Duke energy, Mecklenburg County School system.
c. Non-profit organizations. i.e. Goodwill, CharlotteSave (or AmericanSave), United way.
d. Hobby clubs. Rose and garden clubs, poker clubs, bird watching clubs, running clubs.
e. Strategic Alliances partners. Hospital, nursing homes, CPA’s, financial advisors.
f. Religious groups. Church, Bible study group, Buddha study group.
g. Form your own group. i.e. Heart Link network.It really depends on who your target clients are. Choose your market makers wisely, because you’ll invest a lot of time, energy, and money into the group. Some may not turn out as well as expected.
- Examine why you are doing what you’re doing. People don’t care about WHAT you’re selling. They want to know you and why are you doing what you’re doing. I find this is most difficult for people to define, including myself; work with a coach to form your answer. If you can articulate a story, it’s an instant connection for people. For example, Roberta Franum, owner of the HomeInstead Franchise, provides non-medical in-home care. She tells people that her 92-year-old mother-in-law Eleanor lives with them. She started her business because they had an aging parent to care for and didn’t have a solution. Today, Eleanor has been cared for by HomeInstead for over 10 years.
- Clarify your 1-minute commercial with benefits first. Tell people the benefits of working with you. For example, benefits for Kathy; it will give Kathy more time to do what she wants and must do without the worry of taking care of her parent 24/7.
- Create connections to Kathy. You’re not going to meet Kathy in your networking meetings. But you’ll meet lots of people who know Kathy. Your job is to make connections.
- Get involved in active groups. And since you have to be there on regular basis for networking purposes, you might just get involved or even serve on the board or on a committee. Be your personal walking brand and showcase your capabilities through volunteering.
- Follow up within 48 hours after any networking event. People have a very short memory of whom they meet, so follow-up within 48 hours from your event. You can follow-up with a call or email – which ever works best for your business.
- Be consistent in showing up. Once you decide who your market makers are, be consistent and show up with intention. Your intention is not just to build awareness of your service, but also to form valuable connections. And don’t just show up at the meetings, but stay in front of the group with updates on your business and valuable tips that may help theirs.
After so many years of networking within my defined market markers, I’ve personally found the most effective way of networking is to be involved with a non-profit organization that I’m passionate about. If you follow that passion, you may find yourself on a committee working on projects which showcase your capabilities and who you are. Everyone involved in a non-profit organization shares the same reason to be there – passion about what the non-profit is doing.
Be purposeful in your networking. Your time is priceless, so use it wisely.