I often recommend that my business coaching clients build their networks to build a strong set of relationships with potential customers and referrers.
Sometimes this can be done simply by joining a networking group and getting involved so people know who you are – that’s been my strategy in getting so involved with the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce.
Sometimes though, your customers aren’t on your doorstep, or they’re more difficult to reach. If you’re selling to corporates, or in a specialised area, you need a more in-depth strategy.
And even if you are building up a good network around you, you still need to be able to target the right people.
So here are some ideas on how to do that:
Who do you want to meet?
Often we’re networking for the sake of networking and just adding more people to our collection of people who know who we are and what we do.
This can be good, because of course, the person you meet at a business breakfast may have a cousin who is married to someone at the BBC, who is looking for the expert to host a show about how to grow businesses, which is going to transform your career forever.
Do let me know if your cousin’s wife works at the BBC and is looking for that person.
My point is that random connections can work really well. If you have a group of people who like you, understand what it is that you do, and want to recommend you, you’ll probably do well.
A more structured approach to networking
But sometimes we need a bit more structure to make this work.
The first step is to be very clear about who you want to meet. Who are the decision makers who are going to give you the sale? Which companies do you want to meet with?
You need a hit list, either of specific individuals or types of people, e.g. HR Directors of companies with more than 350 employees.
Where do they hang out?
You need to find out where these people are likely to be.
Consider specialist trade conferences, seminars and training events, private members clubs, geographically specific networking groups.
Dig deep into your target sectors and find out where the people on your hit list are likely to be. You can use LinkedIn to find specific people, and then find out who could introduce you to them.
This is where your slightly more random network of people comes in really handy. Last year a client needed to find people who worked at Virgin in their sponsorship department, and when I asked around, someone I knew put me in touch with the very chap I needed.
If there are not really groups or networks which your target market decision makers are part of, or if you can’t get into those networks, consider creating something.
I’ve worked with a couple of clients who have created networks or seminars for the people they want to work with. They’ve done this as pro bono work, seeing it as an investment in the future. And sure enough, after a little while, my clients have been able to create some good relationships, and then say,
Oh, by the way, we’ve got this thing… would you be interested in buying it? Large purchase orders have followed.
Work out where the people you want to meet will be, online and offline
Find a way to get there
If you can’t find them, create a space where they will come
And ask people for specific introductions to the right kinds of people
Find some more tips on networking here
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Photo credits to Aaron Burden on Unsplash, LinkedIn on pxhere, Simon Callaghan Photography and Simon Dack from Vervate