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Planning your Networking

Attend relevant events
While you can network wherever there is an opportunity to speak to someone else, for business opportunities in particular, the best advice is to go to where the people you really want to meet will be and go to where the people who know the people you want to meet will be. Remember that time is precious and make each contact with another person you meet count. Respect and value your time and theirs.

It’s easy to attend Networking Events as networking has become such an important aspect of business that there are a great many to choose from. Whether you want to go to an informal, formal, social, educational, motivational, trade or profession related event, the opportunities to meet new people are boundless.

Long term gain comes from cultivating long term relationships, so joining a formal business group is an essential element of your Referral Business Strategy. Find the group that is right for you and work with your colleagues in the group you join, to achieve mutual benefit and success. Have patience and be happy and prepared to give help first and you will gain help later.

Remember, the general understanding is that 2 out of 3 people you help will in turn help you in the future, not to mention the other people who notice you helping them.

The key is remembering that your time (and theirs) is valuable and therefore needs to be used wisely by focusing on the right opportunities for you and your business. Commercial success comes from good and profitable Business not just Busyness.

Know with certainty what your objectives are and go to where your target customers and target contacts will be. You can and should also go to where people who can introduce you to your target customers will be.

Remember one connection that you make, follow up and nurture is worth more than a thousand business cards that you gather and never do anything with.

One example of this is that I attended a Breakfast Meeting and met just one new contact on my table who I’ll call Susan. Our business relationship has developed over time and Susan and I both now understand how we can genuinely help each other. I’ve helped by introducing people in my network who could be of benefit to Susan and by keeping her in mind when my other contacts and new people I meet need the services Susan’s organisation provides.

Less than 12 months after our first meeting, Susan opened the door for me to meet with and gain approval for a major buying consortium working with 500 UK businesses. I knew nothing about the organisation prior to the introduction and I certainly would have found it challenging to gain the opportunity to meet with them had Susan not introduced me to them with her strong personal recommendation.

The brilliant thing is that Susan didn’t just give me a name and telephone number she personally spoke to the key decision maker in the consortium and opened the door for me to have an appointment.

I had my appointment about a week after Susan’s personal introduction and my company was immediately approved as a new supplier. About 4 days later our details were added to the consortium online network and emailed to all its members and 20 minutes after we were live on the system, we received our first enquiry.

Susan’s personal recommendation and introduction has had and continues to have a tremendous positive benefit to my company as the consortium is growing rapidly week on week. No expensive marketing was involved in gaining this opportunity so the return on our mutual investment in time is immense.

Another excellent opportunity to meet people is to attend and sponsor charity and social functions and award dinners as they are a great way to make connections in a relaxed, social and friendly environment where easy conversation is the norm.

Key decision makers are often in attendance at these events, so you can make excellent contacts, remembering of course that they are there to have an enjoyable time and not to be sold to. Selling is off the menu!

Planning ahead
While you can network everywhere you meet people and all networking opportunities can be beneficial, one of the most effective ways to increase the potential benefits of the opportunities you uncover is to plan ahead. This is particularly relevant when you attend organised seminars, conferences and networking events.

Just turning up at an organised business networking event can sometimes result in a missed opportunity, especially when with just a little effort and preparation you can achieve some really excellent results.

Where possible, take the time to check out the event before you go along to it. Find out who will be there, what is it about, why is it relevant to your target audience and of course, why is it relevant to you. Also, think how you can check out the delegate and exhibitor list and even the speakers, beforehand.

To be successful, always remember that you get what you focus on. When you know who you want to meet and how many people you want to meet, you remove chance and create opportunity.

For instance, before the event, you might email, call or write to a particular person you want to meet and let them know that you have seen them on the delegate list and would really value an opportunity to say hello. This way you show that you are interested in them, you are professional and you also set up the opportunity to meet when you get there.

Alternatively, if you don’t actually know the person or know what they look like, you can ask the event organisers to help by making the introduction.

Either way, you create the opportunity to meet them rather than taking a chance on possibly meeting by just turning up.

Where to network
You can literally network everywhere and all the time, although there are three main types of networking opportunity when meeting people in person.

Often the value and power of networking with colleagues within your own company or organisation is overlooked however, this is a critical opportunity for building strong relationships and strengthening departmental and cross department/cross operational bonds.

All the same rules apply when it comes to building these relationships as if you are networking with new contacts beyond your existing company. Help first and be helped later. Understand how you can add value and add it.

Social/informal – school, college, university, work, parties, clubs, charity dinners i.e everywhere people gather socially and away from work or business.

Semi-formal – seminars, conferences, trade shows, Chamber of Commerce and trade association networking meetings

Formal – formal business networking groups and events set up specifically to connect people.

Add to these the ever growing online capabilities to link with people you don’t yet know and you can see how massive the opportunities to connect really are.

Goals and Objectives
Know what you want to achieve from an event. It’s not enough to say I’d like to make new contacts – be specific and decide that you want to make 5 new contacts and know which 5 contacts you would you specifically like to meet if you are attending a formal networking event and why?

As you understand what is most important to these new contacts and how you can help them you can truly add value for them. This of course requires research, however, as this is where the big wins are you must make the time and take the time to do it.

Clarity and focus on your specific goals is like having a Satellite Navigation System that takes you to where you want to be via the shortest route possible and with the added benefit that it tells you when you are going off course as well as how to quickly get back on the route plan you need to follow to get to your destination in the least time.

Remember quality counts. A few high quality relationships are worth more than hundreds of acquaintances. Cultivate and invest your time in the right relationships and your networking success will follow.

February 23, 2011 | Category: Planning your Networking Activities, When to Network — Tony Altham
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