Whenever I get together with friends and colleagues at Networking events, at some point in time we inevitably comment about the challenges of Networking as a means to new business development.  Clearly some do it better than others – are more natural, less contrived, or at least appear to be. Some people are awkward and tend to force themselves on you, the result being a business card you likely dismiss as you unpack your wares at the end of the day.

So here is a short list of things to do to help you improve the quality of networking AFTER you’ve worked so hard to go out there and do it. Afterall, it takes so much effort to Network — to make it worthwhile, you need to have follow-up methods that leverage the hard work you’ve already put in.  So here are a few pointers.

Follow-up on Referrals – it must be timely!  If you present an opportunity to someone who consistently fails to follow up on it, how likely are you to continue to spend your time with this person?  Probably not to likely is my guess, and follow-up when it comes to Referrals is the same thing. Following up with what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it, builds your credibility and trust with your network – and TRUST and CREDIBILITY are the keystones to Referral Marketing and building a powerful Referral Network.

This can’t be stressed enough. Small business owners are overwhelmed with all the things they have to do, so if you can remember to always follow-up, no matter how many other important things you have to do, it will spill-over to you positively across your Network.  If you are a little late on your follow-up, apologize for your tardiness, but follow-up just the same.

Listen first – Steven Covey popularized his 5th “Highly effective habit” of “Seek first to understand, then be understood” which has at its core:  Listening first. Your success at Networking depends very much on how well you can learn from the people in your network by listening to them. The more you learn about your networking partners, by listening, the more you’ll learn about them, their needs, and be able to establish a valuable partnership, based on understanding OF WHAT THEIR NEEDS ARE AND HOW BEST TO HELP THEM.

Be Helpful I discuss in depth in my book “The Success Factor” the merits of giving, with the underlying reason being “to be helpful.”  By “giving we gain” and the reply may not be immediate, but down the road, you certainly will get something back.  More importantly, you will be recognized throughout your Network as someone who is genuinely helpful and can be counted on consistently to help others. This is a priceless “label” for you as a person, brand and Networker. So, remember, “be helpful, consistently and unselfishly” knowing that “Giver’s Gain”.  

24/7 Commitment to Networking – Make no mistakes:  Networking is a full-time job!  And to be good at it you must work at taking advantage of every single opportunity that’s presented to you daily, in every situation possible.  

Develop an “Umbrella Networking Plan” where you network using various methods and in various environments. Example, in-person at networking groups, trade events, conventions, and chambers of commerce meetings.  Network online, via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or within the “virtual” confines of any organizations you belong, through an expanded profile or biography. Network as part of a group – a Chamber of Commerce, a community or professional organization – amongst people with whom you share a common interest.  No matter which of the three and in what forms, make a plan to work at it consistently.

What we see is that everyone has a preferred form of Networking – some prefer in person meetings, others prefer events, and others prefer to do it in the comfort of their chair, virtually, in front of the computer.  But the point is – YOU MUST DO ALL THREE and through your “Umbrella Plan”. Recognize where you are weak and need some reinforcement. Example: Millennials will prefer virtual networking over face-to-face meetings, and maybe Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers will prefer in person meetings.  But DO ALL 3 and don’t downplay one in lieu of the other, as you will be shortchanging the potential benefits built into a well-rounded, personal and virtual Network.

I KNOW IT IS NOT EASY – but through dedication and hard work, and planned activities, your Network will grow and become an important part of your business.

And lastly…

Measure your Networking – Tom Peters, author and business management guru helped popularize “what gets measured gets done” in his bestseller “In Search of Excellence” and the notion of metrics applied to Networking is also extremely relevant.  

Put together a “Networking Blueprint” where each week, you map out the amount of time and the activities you dedicate to Networking.  Break them in groups and track them week by week. Example: Online networking, Event networking, and phone networking. Over time, match your Networking activities to your new Business Development Results, to see what works for you, and in the case of underperformance, put in place plans to drive improvements to produce better results.  But like any other aspect of business, Networking must also be measured, monitored, assessed, and ultimately, corrected.

That’s it. I hope you enjoyed reading this and that you found it helpful.  Please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn with any questions or comments you may have.  I also hope you’ll join me online at successfactormedia.com, where you can listen to, follow or download The Success Factor Podcast on iTunes, Soundcloud, Google Play and PlayerFM.

Here’s to your success.

Ernane