As a time-strapped SME owner or start-up, determining which networking events to attend and which to skip can be tricky. It’s all about the return on investment. How will your business benefit by you attending, versus the time and resources it takes to be there?
This is when having a networking strategy will come in handy. From identifying who you want to connect with to knowing where to find them, here are three essential questions you should answer in order to create a networking plan that will work for you.
1. Who are my best prospects?
You’d be surprised at the number of business professionals who can’t define their best prospects. Most of them say that everyone is a potential prospect, or they offer some vague description without any specifics. This is why business professionals so often find themselves trying to attend every networking event. The usual result is that they don’t get as much business from their networking efforts as they’d like to.
A strategy will help eliminate this problem.
If you’re not sure who the right contacts are for your business, look at your past client list. What industries were they in? How long had they been in business? Were your clients even businesses to begin with or have you worked mostly with consumers? Once you’ve put together a profile of the people you’ve worked with in the past, run it by a few trusted friends and colleagues. People who are close to you often have insights into patterns that you tend to overlook because you’re busy with day-to-day operations.
2. Where can I meet them?
If you’re trying to meet more small business owners, you’ll generally want to spend time at the chamber of commerce, your local business association or with a referral. These groups have the type of audience you want to meet, and a system that helps you help others to get more referrals for you. But while attending business association events is usually a good starting point, there are other opportunities that fall outside typical networking events that will benefit your business as it evolves.
If you’re looking to meet representatives from bigger corporations in your area, try service clubs, non-profit groups and volunteer work. Another option is homeowners’ association meetings. If you’re a real estate agent who wants to meet first-time homebuyers and people interested in moving downtown, you’ll probably find more prospects by networking at downtown events. Look also for networking events likely to be attended by young professionals, since they are likely to be accumulating disposable income to buy a downtown condo or home.
3. Who do I want to meet?
The greater the number of networks you’re connected with, the greater the chance that there’s a short chain of contacts between you and anyone you’d care to name. All you have to do is recognise that fact and ask a few people a specific question or two. The answers will either put you in direct contact or lead you in the direction of the networking events you need to attend.
Finally, remember that it’s important to surround yourself with quality business contacts. The best way to your ideal contact very often is through another contact.