Secrets to Building a Useful Network

“Networking* has become a small-business buzzword. The beauty of today’s networking is that you can do a lot of it globally–through the Internet.

But it’s not enough to network. You want to build a network that serves your needs.

Start with a plan. Who do you want to meet? Potential new customers, of course, but who else? What about suppliers and providers of services you need? What about a connection to a government agency or educational institution?

Review your operating plan to see what kinds of people might support your goals and open doors for you. Target your networking just like you do your marketing. Ask your existing network if they know anyone who fits your criteria. As you meet new people in networking situations, ask for referrals. Most people enjoy being able to provide useful contacts.

When you meet someone who doesn’t seem to fit into your network, determine if they might be useful to someone else in your network. Being known as a resource for what is needed reinforces your value.
In addition to the obvious exchange of business cards or information, follow up with each new person you meet within three days by sending an e-mail, a hand-written note or a post card. Don’t neglect this step. It strengthens the memory of having met you.

If you think there might be a reason to initiate more personal communication right away, either call them or arrange a phone appointment to get acquainted and explore the possibilities. Follow
the conversation with a *thank you* regardless of the outcome.

If you have a mailing list, let your new contact know you’d like to add them to your list, and then do it. Periodic communication through one or more media is critical to building and maintaining a network. We won’t go into details this time, but almost any business can benefit from a communication plan.

Maybe you’re a one- or two-person enterprise and you need specialized assistance but don’t want to hire an employee. Why not explore your network to see who might provide what you need or be able to offer a referral? That’s how a lot of businesses are growing today. Rather than hiring employees, small business owners are opting to subcontract. Some subcontract everything they don’t want to do themselves.

Reap the full benefit from your network. Plan to network–with a plan. And, of course, be willing to respond to all those in your network when called upon. Reciprocity is how the game is played.

Happy networking!