As a business network, we have a vested interest in helping people learn how to network effectively. After all, if our members don’t get what they need, why would they stay? The WBN is a large network of over 200 women who all have different goals for their professional lives and reasons for joining. That’s why effective networking should be an individualized strategy. I’ve talked about how to network with a purpose and a plan before, so I want to explore how to network wisely this year.
There are three primary benefits people are typically after when they spend time networking:
- Direct business
The first two help you grow and pay the bills. The last one can keep you motivated. But if you don’t network wisely, you won’t get any of these benefits. Even if you’re an experienced networker (and I’m talking to myself here, too), it’s important to a take step back and look at what you’re doing and how it’s impacting your career or business.
Networking shouldn’t be business card bingo
In other words, to network wisely we need to start meeting people with intention. I used to have hundreds of business cards that I’d received over my years of networking. One day, I started looking through them and there were so many names I couldn’t remember or who had moved on to other opportunities. I can’t keep up with the number of people I meet and neither can you. But you can zero in on the people who can make an actual difference for you. Who’s that?
- Complementary industries – Let’s say you’re a photographer specializing in weddings. You can build a mini-network of trusted people to make referrals to (and vice versa), such as florists, caterers, DJs and more. Beyond that, you could even add realtors, lawyers and insurance agents for that couple that wants to get started with everything in order.
- Ideal prospects – Because these are the people who could become your ideal clients. I would argue that you shouldn’t bother joining a network if you want direct business unless there are members in the network who happen to fit the bill as your ideal client. However, this shouldn’t be the ultimate goal, either. It is just as powerful to build a great referral engine of complementary industry people.
- Trusted advisors – These are people who have more experience in areas you feel are weak. They can help steer you in the right direction when you’re unsure of your course. But don’t be that person who takes all the time without giving back. Networking only works when everyone pitches in. We truly are stronger together.
What problem do you solve?
Now you’ve got a good idea of the kind of people you want to focus on meeting and building relationships with through your networking activities. They’re your peeps, crew, posse or whatever fun name you want to call them. But do you understand them? And do they understand you?
A referral engine is only as powerful as the referrers’ understanding of the problem you solve for people. What’s interesting is that sometimes when you tell people what you do, they don’t necessarily see the connection to the problem you’re trying to solve. To network wisely, you need to build that understanding.
For example, I can tell people that I can help businesses build a strategic web presence to help them grow their business. The actual problem I solve is saving them time and resources with a focused, clear plan for marketing their business. Because when you don’t have a plan, you’re probably just spinning your wheels.
Sounds a little like networking, doesn’t it? I’m a big proponent of plans!
Weigh each relationship carefully, regularly
They say you can only maintain friendships with 150 people. Networking groups can grow to be very tight-knit communities, but there’s a risk of becoming exclusive. That said, you also can’t be besties with every person you meet while networking. You’ll find yourself in those situations from time to time when you can benefit someone who may not be a good fit for your goals. Then you have to choose how much you put into that relationship. Sometimes, you have the capacity to support them, but you can’t let it get to you if you don’t.
That list of complementary industry people? Evaluate how that’s working out a few times a year. Have regular touch points to see how you can provide mutual support. If referrals aren’t coming, have a courageous conversation about why. And if the arrangement stops working for whatever reason, it’s okay to end or put it on pause.
It’s practical to network wisely
You start with goals. You lay out the steps to achieve your goals. Then you execute the steps. It’s that simple. But it’s not always easy.
The hardest part can be saying no: Don’t spend all your time networking to the detriment of your business or job. Go to events that make sense for you and skip the ones that don’t. You’re also not under any obligation to accept every coffee/lunch/drinks request you get.
Knowing when to say yes and no is easier when you have a plan. Take the time to build one so you can network wisely and with confidence.
Check out our upcoming events so you don’t miss out! This month’s Wine Down and Mix and Mingle will both cover topics on how you can dare to get out there and network with confidence. And don’t miss the Annual Meeting of Members, Tuesday, September 19th where we’ll be talking about how this past year went and where we’re going in 2018!
WBN President, 2015-18
Chief Marketing Strategist and Storyteller
Karen C. Wilson Communications