Today I'm not going to focus on working the room, but on working the entire concept. I'll be discussing three essential elements that absolutely have to be at the forefront of any networking that you do. I am taking it as a 'given' that you are in the professional services arena, are offering a premium service, and are not trying to be the cheapest provider in town.
1. Fish in the Right Pond
If you had set out to fish for Cod, would you take your tackle out on a barge on some English canal hoping for success? Likewise if you were aiming to catch Rainbow Trout would you set out on a deep sea vessel heading for the Atlantic? Of course not! You would have done your homework in advance, known where the highest concentration of your 'target' was, and set off to fish in those waters.
Networking should be no different. In order to get the highest return on your investment (that's your time and money) you simply have to be doing your networking where your ideal prospects are.
There are a great many different networking organizations to choose from that you may feel overwhelmed by the choices. I wholeheartedly recommend that you take full advantage of attending as a visitor, as many times as the group allows, before making any commitment to join. Investigate, do your homework, and make sure that the fish you want to catch are swimming in that pond!
There is a school of thought that suggests it doesn't matter where you network because networking is simply about meeting people and making connections. I totally disagree. Pure business sense and sheer economics mean that lots of low value connections, not turning into money, equals a high cost of conversion and low return on investment. It simply has to be about quality not quantity, which brings me nicely on to the next point:
2. Don't Spread Yourself Too Thinly
To make a genuine success of your networking efforts and get tangible value out of it, it is imperative that you be an active, visible member of the group (or groups) to which you belong. This comes back to the quantity issue. Ask yourself: Can I be an active, visible, highly involved member of a whole host of different networking clubs? To get the most value out of my membership how much time would I have to dedicate to attending events? Over the course of a week or a month, how many hours am I spending at these events? How many work days does that equate to? Now the killer question: Do I have to compensate by catching up on work in the evenings and at weekends?
Never forget that you have a business to run. Spending time and money in marketing efforts that get poor or wishy-washy results is going to have disastrous knock-on consequences. I'm not saying that your networking is getting poor results, but it introduces the third point.
3. Frequently Evaluate
If we keep doing the same things, we will keep getting the same results. That's why it is crucial to frequently evaluate what we are doing and examine what results are being obtained from those efforts.
We do, of course, also need to factor in the cost of membership to all these clubs, plus any additional out of pocket extras like the breakfasts or lunches there. How does that fit in with your overall marketing budget? Can you think of ways to get more 'bang for your buck' by getting in front of your prospects in a more targeted way?
Many fish migrate to other waters during different seasons, or because of other changes in environmental factors. So too, do we need to frequently evaluate whether our ideal prospects are still swimming in the pond where we have cast our net.
Back on the issue of quality rather than quantity another area that demands close evaluation and scrutiny is that of the quality of business or referrals that are being obtained within the group. If the best referrals you are getting are names and numbers on a post-it note, they are likely to result in nothing more than a cold-call at best. Take an honest look at your conversion ratio: How many of these leads are being turned in to paying clients? How long does it take?
A simple way to warm up a referral is to ask the referee what they know about the prospect and their needs, and then encourage them to make a warm introduction. It's important that the approach is made by the person that the prospect knows and trusts. It can even be as straightforward as just arranging a phone call or exchange of emails between you and the prospect. Try this tip alone and see your conversion rates sky-rocket!
You absolutely have to ensure that any networking you do fits in with your overall marketing strategy. (You do have one, right?) If your weekly commitment is turning into a glorified breakfast club or ladies tea-party it's time to refocus, reprioritise, and re-evaluate what may be better uses of your time.