Every successful company has a network – of clients, referral partners, contractors, vendors, staff, and/or investors. However, successful company executives don’t waste time networking – rubbing every elbow possible at events which have low or no barriers to entry. Instead, they develop goals, strategies, and tactics to develop a network that creates client relationships and builds brand credibility.
The key to building a network is being realistic. Sevens and eights build networks with nines and tens; they don’t pal around with ones and twos. If you’re not seeing reciprocation in the relationships you are trying to build, you may be wasting your valuable time. Similarly, people with great networks don’t spend their time at every network-building opportunity; they are deliberate, seeking the right people at the right time. Great leaders spend most of their time producing for clients, building a strong company infrastructure, and becoming a nine or ten that other people seek out.
Build networks through sniper strategy, not spray-and-pray
Most “networking” events are the business equivalent of “spray-and-pray.” This is a military term to describe when a person hopes to hit a target through sheer volume of fire rather than taking the time to line up a single shot at a specific target to hit dead center – sniping.
Sniping requires knowing your goals, environment, targets, and equipment. It is strategic, whereas spray-and-pray is based on hope and luck –firing cards like bullets at networking events that have low barriers to entry and you don’t know who you’re bumping into. Success at these events if often defined as how many elbows are rubbed, not what types of elbows are rubbed.
The transition from spraying to sniping – from “networking” to “building a network” – was one of my greatest professional challenges. I had great success “networking” in politics –one client described me as “the world’s best networker,” an employer estimated that I introduced him to 500 people at a conference, and another person described me as “a blitzkrieg of networking.” I took these “skills” to the business world and fell flat because nobody wants to do business with an energetic puppy who charges from conversation to conversation. Golden Retrievers are great pets, not great business vendors.
It took me a while before I learned how to cultivate with patience and common connections – to be as patient and on-point as a sniper while still connecting on a real, human level. I stopped “networking” and began building my network because the former brings a lot of elbows – and, if you’re lucky, the right ones. But you can’t build success from luck.
Four tactics to build your network
BNI founder Ivan Misner describes real networking as “more about farming than…hunting,” and says most people confuse networking as “face-to-face cold calling…” Here are four tactics to build a network and to (mostly) avoid networking:
- Do your research and ask the right questions when considering a networking event. Who will be in attendance, what positions do they hold in their companies, what are their companies’ annual revenues, and how many people will attend? How far is the event, what is the door price, and at what time of day? If the answers to these questions match your target markets and personal cost-benefit analysis, this event may be worth attending
- Make conferences and other networking opportunities your own. This is the excellent strategy outlined by Keith Ferrazzi in Never Eat Alone. Its tactics include, but are not limited to, getting a guest list ahead of time; contacting the right attendees ahead of time to set up meetings in advance; and inviting the right people to your own lunches or other mini-events you set up on-site ahead of time.
- Treat people like people, not resources. Yes, we’re all here to build our companies and make money. But the classic hard-nosed salesperson or political consultant treats people like assets, whereas successful networks are built by developing a real connection through common interests and genuine interest in each other’s success. Networks are valuable resources; people often won’t want to be a close-knit part of yours, or share theirs, until they feel comfortable with you.
- Success is your best network-building, so be very careful about putting “networking” in front of your revenue-producing, company-building work. Great networking can be as simple as:
- Running a restaurant or auto dealership that brings in hundreds or thousands of people each week.
- The law firm that wins a major case and uses a PR strategy to draw attention to the victory, hosts a webinar to lay out the victory’s implications, and hosts a victory party at company headquarters.
- Documentarians who get their films played by college campuses, churches, and community groups across the country; win awards; and get plenty of press.
- The construction or landscaping company that has great signs and does quality work at a high-profile location where hundreds of potential customers pass by during the course of the work
Be easy to find but hard to get ahold of
Our Director of Marketing coined the above phrase because those who attend many “networking” events have low brand value – they are too easy to find. It’s like an energetic puppy who wants to be friends with everyone. Conversely, many people are too busy to get ahold of, and so their brand value is zero because they have become siloed. The successful networks are built through a brand that is successful, too hard-working to be easily reached, but also easily contactable should circumstances require it.
Your time is too valuable to be spent networking. Go build your brand.