Reading Time: 6 minutesPart of your journey in networking is learning how to network more efficiently, effectively and strategically. For me, a big chunk of this falls around having the right people in your network and knowing which relationships to nurture. It’s not possible to connect and manage all relationships to the same level, so it’s a good idea to sit down and work out who should be in your network and why they should be in your network.
Everyone who starts networking, starts with the same intention.
- to get business
- to find new customers
What would you say if I said, yes, they are part of the equation, but way down the line? What if I told you that there are four people you need to have in your network? Your next question would be, who are these four people, right?
I would suggest having four key pillars that you identify, i.e. four distinct groups of people that you absolutely must have in your networking toolkit and arsenal in order to get the best value for your time investment.
These can change each year as your business develops, so this list is not meant to be taken as a static list. Just like your business, your needs will evolve and change with experience, as your business grows and scales.
Group 1 – Customer Sources
Looking for customers at networking events, can be like looking for needles in a haystack. How on earth are you going to know who needs your services or products? Short of asking each person you meet at a networking event and handing out your business card, you aren’t going to achieve much business this way. You will undoubtedly annoy a lot of people with a forthright, salesy approach so I definitely don’t recommend this way of networking.
But what if there was a better, more manageable, and sensible way of finding customers? Well, there is! It’s called a customer source. You need to find the people who deal with your customers before do and who can refer you in. Another name for these customer sources are referral partners. I would definitely suggest having a number of referral partners.
Tip: Be sure that your whole team knows who your referral partners are, what the deal is, e.g. do they get commission, rebates etc and be sure to make a note of all associated deals on your CRM system, so you can ensure no overlap.
Let me give you an example. I represent my partner’s company at a lot of networking events. The business is Highline Office Technology and the team are experts in all things printers, scanners, copiers, shredders – essentially managed print services (MPS). So good referral partners for us, or customer sources, are IT companies, as they come before us in the eco-system. Clients tend to put printers in with IT, even though it’s a very specialist area, so IT companies need good, reliable and knowledgeable MPS partners. Highline Office Technology has a number of referral partners and each relationship is nurtured, managed and is of course discreet. Hence my tip on using your CRM system wisely.
Other examples of referral partners might be accountants and business coaches. Business coaches want clients who are ready to invest in growth, knowledge, systems and accountants know the clients that are in this space, so it makes perfect sense for a business coach to build a relationship with accountants and leverage this relationship over time.
It’s not recommended that you limit yourself to one person who is a customer source. Have a think about where you want to get your business from. You might want different referral partners in different geographical locations or across different networks that you are involved in, as an example.
Group 2 – Connectors
It’s impossible to know everyone, but it’s a little bit more possible if you find the connectors. What is a connector? Well this is a person who knows a lot of people. A connector will save you so much time.
I am definitely a connector. I just love connecting people. It’s become a passion. I love finding out about people, what they do, what makes them tick and I’m always on the watch out to introduce them to other business people.
Because I network far and wide, I am in a unique position to be able to see opportunities and connections to make that other people wouldn’t see or take the time to make. This might be because I am in lots of different groups, but also because I don’t refine my network geography.
I love to open new doors for people and see them succeed. I find a lot of people tend to be closed with their ‘little black book’, and yet, it would stand them in far better stead to open it up and help others. That generosity and helpful approach will be remembered.
Find out who the connectors are in your networks and spend time getting to know them and letting them get to know you. They’ll find opportunities for collaboration and connection where you won’t. They’ll be the shortcut to people you should connect with. There is nothing better than a warm, vouched introduction to someone. The ice is broken and connectors offer an element of social proofing.
Ultimately they save you time, hassle, energy and of course money!
Group 3 – Mentors
Everybody needs mentors. There is no one who starts in business and knows it all. There is no one who is growing and scaling a business, who knows it all. It’s really critical to surround yourself with people who know more than you and who are willing to act as a guide for you. So there are a few things to consider here. Mentors can be:
- in a different time zone
- in a different geography
- in a different sector to you
- people you engage with in person or indeed online
Some enterprise boards and networks offer a mentor programme. But you can also pay for mentorship services in areas where you might need some strategic support and guidance during a particular phase of development in your business, e.g. website development, marketing, social media management, setting up your finances, hiring new staff etc. Look for business people who are successful in an area that you want to be successful in. They can show you the paths, talk to you about the pitfalls and short circuit the process for you. This can be worth its weight in gold.
Mentors, both in terms of topic and in terms of person, need to be a good fit for you and your business. There needs to be a good and positive vibe, otherwise it won’t work. As with everything in life, you get either what you pay for, or either what you spend time investing in. What do I mean by this? Well, if you need someone who can help with social media, they need to be excellent and have a proven track record. You might identify a few different people who have these credentials, but you need to assess whether they are a good personality fit for you. Culture and positive vibes is so key, otherwise, you’ll get disenfranchised and disillusioned with the process. So choose wisely! We’ll discuss the topic of mentors and mentees on another blog, as it’s an underestimated and underutilised tool for sure!
It’s also a good idea to find a mentor within your industry niche or sector. All businesses go through phases, so if you are starting or scaling, spending time chatting to someone who has ‘been there, done that’, can be invaluable. Chances are they are not competing with you and many people are very willing to ‘give back’ or #payitforward. Not everybody is, but lots of people are. So it’s a filtering process to identify those people and connect in with them to learn from them.
Another mentor I would highly recommend is a networking mentor. This is something that I do via my networks, such as Venture Business Network and Network Ireland, amongst others. Every business owner, in my humble opinion, should learn about networking. How to do it, where to network, what to say, how to get the best out of it. And this is the focus of my blogs of course. I’m such a networking advocate and I truly believe that it’s such an investment to make in yourself and your future. I can’t begin to tell you how much you’ll get out of it, if you keep an open mindset and enjoy the ride. It’s possible that these mentors cover a couple of these topics
Group 4 – Peer Group
These are people who know you. And I mean really know you. From your circumstances to your business. They are your best friends in business, the people who you can turn to, to explore, to have a moan, to trouble shoot, to sound board with. These are the people who’ll give you the proverbial kick when you need it and the encouragement to keep going, when you are feeling low. Let’s be honest here. We all have these moments, demons, doubts and meltdowns, confusion and issues, so it’s good to have a peer who you can talk to and thrash things out with. This could be on a hike, a walk, over coffee, over a virtual glass of wine – whatever works.
We all need people who are in our corner. Starting and managing a business is a lonely journey, so surround yourself with allies. Surround yourself with people who will help you grow, prosper and thrive. Surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed.
If you have other ideas and suggestions, I’d love to hear them. You can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And do connect in with me on Linkedin, Twitter and Instagram. Let’s keep the #networking conversation going!
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