Networking Do’s and Don’ts aren’t enough. Try WWWWWH
There are always plenty of articles providing well-intended advice for networkers (new and experienced) on the desirable Do’s and perilous Don’ts of networking. Whilst the advice is practical, mostly common-sense, and helpful, it probably needs to go a step further.
Once in a while you still get someone who exhibits from the Don’t list – passes business cards out like sweets, look over a shoulder for the next contact/target/victim, tunes out when/if listening and tunes back in to speak (a lot) with a hard sell, oblivious to the ‘2 ears, 1 mouth’ rule. But, let’s assume for a moment that most small business networkers are savvy enough to have applied some basic etiquette. Beyond the do and don’t lessons, what comes next?
How about a networking plan, researched and prepared and forming part of your marketing plan comprising the same level of analysis you might apply to your marketing plan with its 7P’s, SWOT, PESTEL, competitor analysis and customer profiling and theories from Porter, Maslow and Ansoff.
How about a networking plan with a blueprint or a best-practice guide covering essentials that actually suit your business model, offering and culture, and indeed your own skill-set and personality.
And to do this, how about starting by reviewing and answering some of WWWWWH questions.
Why, Who, When and Where, What and How
If you attend networking events (or are thinking you should), ask yourself WHY. What is the end goal in networking your business? Do you even need to network to achieve this? You need to find the right group with the right offering which comprises the right culture, structure, content and type of attendee. Otherwise you’ll be spending valuable time attending events, and time is money after all.
WHO do you wish to reach? What do you hope to gain? Prospects, suppliers, associates, referrers? Or perhaps it’s less of the ‘who’ and more of the ‘what’ and you’re seeking business knowledge, support and personal development.
If one of your ‘WHY’s’ for networking is to make contacts though, then what exactly does this mean? Do you have defined targets? Do you have connection specifics i.e. what introductions to further contacts you may be seeking and how do you plan to relationship-build over a prolonged period of time. We all know that walking into a networking arena is not about handing out cards and obtaining immediate customers.
WHERE and WHEN
Once your networking goals are defined, then consider WHEN and WHERE you will achieve this. What events deliver what you need to support and grow your business? If it’s about connections, WHO do you want to meet, WHERE are they and WHEN?
Events run breakfast, noon and night and formats vary. Add in social networking and you could literally network all week long. In the same way you might analyse your ideal customer or prospect, profile your ideal networking event, the ideal content and the ideal results. And remember to factor in what environment will suit your business type, size and sector and perhaps as importantly your own ability and comfort factor when networking. Networking can be formal or informal; male, female or mixed; general or sector-specific; membership or PAYG, franchised or independent, and so much more in format, culture and attendee profile.
WHAT and HOW
Then there are the actual mechanics of WHAT to do and HOW to network.
What happens at different style events? What do you say and do? What should you say and do? Do you have an elevator pitch? How is it? Does it change depending on your audience? Does it interest or bore your listeners?
Subject to the event format, you may be networking standing, sitting, eating, or drinking, some of which will add an extra dynamic to how many things you may be trying to say, do, hold and manage at one time. Remember why you’re there. If you’re there to hear the business speaker, sit near or facing the front where you can view the slides and hear properly. If you’re there to source a particular type of contact, check out the attendee list, ask the organiser who they’d recommend you speak to and ask for introductions.
When it comes to speaking or presenting, will this be a 60 second elevator pitch and to how many? Will it be round-robin, random selection, introducing your neighbour, a 1-2-1 or in a break out group? Preparation is key – understand the format and plan your content but be as natural and friendly as possible. Consider too whether you’re doing the right things to be engaging. Did you remember the mandatory content (surprising how it can happen under pressure) – your full name, your company name, what you actually do (don’t assume a company name covers it) and to mention or provide cards/literature (showing the right, up-to-date content) that confirms how to reach you. Are you interesting, clear and concise about what you do, where, how and for whom? Consider whether people will like you, connect with you, remember you! Would you like to meet yourself based on what you say?
And then there is the networking after an event – a myriad of follow-up steps and actions to ensure that networking and re-networking (see our definition) work. Have you process-mapped your follow-up steps. Is your Networking working? How do you make it work? Do you monitor results and how? Relationship-building must be at the core, but how are you measuring your return on investment of time and effort? What emotional or relational collateral are you actually banking?
In conclusion, if networking plays a part in your business development and marketing strategy, then of course take advice from do and don’t articles. But, consider applying the WWWWWH exercise too – brainstorm, flowchart, create a matrix of goals against events to see where you should be heading. Allocate time to planning and have realistic expectations of the time, effort and financial investment required. Snatch and grab networkers won’t yield long term benefits!
Colony works with small businesses on networking strategy and planning, to produce networking essentials plans, and to signpost to suitable groups and events. It also runs networking events of its own. This blog was written in connection with the February 2017 workshop on networking strategy issues, jargon, and best-practice guidance.
For details about The Colony Networking Group’s business networking events in South Warrington, click here
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