May 2, 2022
Business networking is establishing mutually beneficial relationships with clients/customers, suppliers, and other like-minded professionals. This critical skill aids you in growing both personally and professionally. Before you rush out to a professional networking event, or hop on yet another virtual networking call, take some time to learn about identifying and leveraging your existing network.
Identify your network
Start first with those in your immediate network. Consider your close friends, neighbours, family members. Family? Yes, family. You may be thinking, why would I list my Aunt or Uncle? Well, does Auntie play rumoli? sing in the church choir? volunteer at the library? Your Aunt has access to a network of people that you may not know.
As you list people in your network, categorize them as Family, Personal or Business. Family is self-explanatory. Personal can include folks like your dentist, daughter’s basketball coach, or son’s piano teacher. Business refers to anyone you meet while conducting business or attending a networking event representing your business or organization.
The role of folks in your network
Once you identify folks in your network, and how you know them, what next? Each person in your network plays a unique role.
- Influencers – individuals or groups whose opinions might count and whom the decision maker might listen to, even in an informal way
- Recommenders – the people carrying out the search and evaluation process and who make a formal recommendation for or against a purchase
- Economic Buyers – the individual or group who controls the budget and who makes the actual purchase
- Decision Makers – the person or group ultimately responsible for the choice of a product/service and for ordering the purchase decision
- End Users – the ultimate beneficiaries of a product or service
- Saboteurs – the people and groups who can obstruct or derail the process of searching, evaluating, and purchasing a product or service
Source: Value Proposition Design, strategyzer.com/vpd
Understanding the role of people in your network guides you in having the right discussion. If you are making a pitch to an end user who has no authority to purchase your product or service, it is most likely not a productive use of their time or yours. Conversely, if you have the ear of a decision maker, and you are not making a pitch for your product or service, you are missing a valuable opportunity.
Join an ecosystem
When I started my business, I discovered an entrepreneur ecosystem in my region. I quickly learned the value of connecting with, and promoting this network of people. If there was an event on the go that I had the time for, I was there. I earned a reputation from others of, “I am not sure who will be at this event, however I am sure that Carole Spicer will be there!” As I met a variety of people, I learned how to hone my “elevator speech”. You know, the one you use to introduce yourself for the time span of riding in an elevator for three floors.
Seek out like-minded professionals. Is there an industry association for your sector? Are there not-for-profits focusing on your potential clients or who could benefit themselves from your product or service? Do not forget social networks on Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn.
Ask for an introduction
When I first met people in the early days of my business, quite often someone would say, “You should meet <insert name here> from <insert organization>.” I would nod, say yes, and promptly forget who they mentioned when I left the networking event. As a result, I began asking for introductions when a recommendation came my way. Folks are always willing to make an email connection in my experience. That puts the onus on me to follow-up with a potential connection. Do not forget to thank the person that took the time to make the introduction.
Be sure to give as much as you receive
Business networking is about mutually beneficial relationships. Therefore, you are expected to contribute as much to the relationship as you receive from it. Be on the lookout for potential connections for others in your network. Do not hesitate to lend your name, support, social media like to events and promotions for your contacts. Recently I was with a client during some strategic planning and action planning sessions. One of the action items was connecting with regions of the province where the organization had no representation. Following the session I sent off different emails connecting my client to folks I know in the aforementioned areas. Within an hour, the client had a positive response from all introductions to set up a meeting. What did it cost me? Nothing but 5 minutes of my time.
Document your network
Take the time to document who is in your network. Use a spreadsheet, database, notebook, or whatever works for you. I have created a database in Microsoft Access. I have a column that identifies how I know the individual, and a column that identifies their role. Additionally, I have identified regions (four regions in Newfoundland and Labrador, the three provinces in the Maritimes, the rest of Canada, and other). Consequently, if I wish, I can filter by region to see who I know where.
When I first created my database it was easy to update. I simply looked at all the business cards I gathered in my first year of business. The last couple of years, we have networked differently. Recently I took some time to review my database and update it. I began by sorting my email Inbox by name and added anyone not already listed in my database. This resulted in adding over 120 names to my list! I am now in the process of reviewing my newsletter subscription list to see if all subscribers are in my electronic database.
Never underestimate the power of networking
You may have heard of the Six Degrees of Separation theory. It states that we are all connected through six or less intermediary people. Another layer adds the Kevin Bacon theory! Everyone in Hollywood is connected to Kevin Bacon using this method.
A few years ago I was at my great-uncle’s funeral. One of my aunts was asking me about my business. I chatted with her for a few minutes giving her an update. She turned to my mother and said, “I do not really understand what she does, but she is some smart isn’t she?” Auntie may never be an Economic Buyer or Decision Maker. She will never buy my services and become an End User; however I know I can count on her being a Recommender and Influencer in her own network. I am happy she is in mine.
Do you want to join my network? Drop me a message, email at email@example.com or give me a call. ~ Carole