The most successful networkers develop a strategic plan. They identify the types of businesspeople who make up their target market and study the different types of networking opportunities that might reach those prospects.
But to start, let's first identify some of the strengths and skills you bring to the table. Answering these questions truthfully and thoroughly will help you discover important things about yourself that will affect how you network:
- Are you a "people person"?
- Do you enjoy public speaking?
- What did you do professionally before starting your business?
- How long have you lived in the area where you do business?
- What skills do you possess beyond your business expertise, such as managing time well, staying organized and keeping clients focused?
Related: 7 Tips for Networking
Next, ask yourself, "What group of people or target market is best suited for my services?" For example, if you're an extroverted consultant who worked for a big insurance company before starting your own business, then insurance firms and their agents could be a logical target market. They would value your expertise and experience, and you'd be able to talk in a language they understood. You'd probably have great success closing the deal with these prospects. A good place to network would be through an insurance trade association that meets in your area. Your target audience would likely show up there in force.
As another example, let's say you're a people person who dabbles in public speaking. Your services lend themselves to firms with fewer than 10 employees, and you're looking for places to meet them. Because speaking is one of your strengths, your networking strategy should include delivering presentations at your local chamber of commerce. That's a great way to promote yourself and meet a lot of people at once, especially small-business owners.
People have told me, "Well, that sounds great, but I don't want to limit my prospect base by talking to only one group of people." I know how hard it seems to get new business, so the last thing you want to do is feel that you're networking to just one group. But when you establish one or two target audiences and focus your networking there, you'll find that potential clients will start calling you with their business. Why? Because you obviously know your stuff and are willing to spend time to get to know key prospects who will not only contact you but will also refer business to you.
Building your business is all about leveraging your strengths to meet your prospects' needs, then networking with as many of those people as you can. That might mean seeking connections from friends and family members. It might also mean attending every industry-specific meeting within a 50-mile radius of your office.
But successful networking doesn't mean running all over town connecting with anyone who happens to be in the room. That's sure to be an exhausting way to acquire customers. A successful business creates a network that is an inch wide and a mile deep, not a mile wide and an inch deep.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.