Strategic networking is essential for success, but it can be daunting for small business owners to find the time to navigate the overwhelming number of business groups and networking events available, let alone attend them all.
Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF) has teamed up with Ethan Chazin of The Chazin Group, LLC – a member of EGF’s Consulting Corps and an expert in strategic relationship building. Here, he gives a step-by-step guide on how to effectively grow your professional network.
Step 1: Define what, where, when and who
One of the most difficult aspects of networking is to choose the events and opportunities that are the most beneficial to you and your business. To make it easier, first identify what you want to gain by defining your business and professional goals. Then, create a 90-day calendar of events (where and when) that will put you face-to-face with your target audiences.
To narrow down the list of opportunities, ask yourself these questions:
- Who do you want or need to connect with? Describe your ideal contacts in detail.
- What industries do they work in?
- What are their key business challenges, and how can you help to overcome them?
- What associations do they belong to? What events have they attended?
A good goal is to attend an event every two weeks. That way, you’re not overwhelmed by the time commitment and you’ll still be a frequent-enough participant to demonstrate motivation and dedication.
Step 2: Prepare talking points
Once you’ve targeted your events and registered for them, try to research the people who will be attending (check out event- or organization-specific social media pages on LinkedIn® and Facebook® to start). Then, figure out the top ten people that you’d like to meet at each event (always keep in mind that, while it’s important to connect strategically, you never want to turn away a possible connection).
Next, prepare a compelling elevator pitch (one minute or less) that answers who you are and what you do. More importantly, tell your story. Stories are what connects and intrigues us. Your pitch should be a way to break the ice and get to know someone, not to sell a product.
Write it down, prepare a few variations and practice before attending events. Try it on other people (like trusted colleagues, clients or friends and family), get feedback and edit accordingly. Remember to tailor the pitch to your audience, not you.
Step 3: Focus on long-lasting relationships
There are two kinds of networkers – hunters and farmers – and you want to be a farmer. Why? Hunters focus on making a deal, which results in short-term relationships that may not have any effect on your business or progress. Sometimes hunters can be aggressive in their pitch, leaving others feeling like they're being sold to.
Farmers, on the other hand, focus on growing a support network. Farmers seek like-minded people in their industry to potentially collaborate with on projects or ideas. This type of ideology leads to long-lasting relationships that could open unexpected opportunities.
That’s why it’s best to approach networking in a more strategic way, beginning with a shift in focus from the idea of “networking” to “relationship building” – creating mutually beneficial connections based on trust and added value over time.
Pay careful attention to your conversations with target connections – and right after each interaction, use the backs of their business cards to write one or two key takeaways from your talk. This will help to personalize your follow-up emails and calls so that you connect in a more meaningful way.
Step 4: Follow-up
Send a thank-you email immediately following the event to each of the people that you connected with to ensure that the conversation is fresh in both of your minds. Include relevant information that came up when you spoke (this is when the notes you made on the back of the business cards comes in handy). Invite people to connect online in a professional network such as LinkedIn.
As you build your network, become a resource, too
Always remember that it’s important to give back – sharing useful information and resources is a perfect way of doing so. For example, if an article or event pops up that may be relevant to someone in your network, send it along with a note. And be sure to make introductions among those in your circle that may benefit from meeting each other. Your thoughtfulness will be appreciated.
About Excelsior Growth Fund
Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF) helps businesses in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania grow by providing streamlined access to business loans and advisory services. EGF’s signature product, the EGF SmartLoan™, provides up to $100,000 in fast, transparent, and affordable financing through a secure online platform. Larger loans up to $500,000 are also available. EGF is a nonprofit organization and is certified by U.S. Department of Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). Learn more at www.excelsiorgrowthfund.org.