Six Steps to Create an Effective Networking Strategy

Networking can help you generate new sales leads, deepen connections with existing contacts - leading to more business - and learn useful information about your markets, resulting in innovation and more relevant services. So why do so many tourism business owner and other entrepreneurs do it in such an ad-hoc way? 

Karl Smith of Business Networking South Africa was the keynote speaker at Cape Town Tourism's recent Marketing Feedback Session talking about networking. Here he shares the six steps to creating a successful networking strategy:

 "Who has a networking strategy?"  Would it surprise you that more than 80 per cent of people and businesses I ask do not have a networking strategy?  They may have some sort of marketing or business plan. Yet ask them how much of their business comes from referrals, word-of-mouth recommendation and direct networking and you will find that more than 80 per cent typically comes from these sources. So, if you don't have a large marketing budget and your source of business comes from people you know, you need a networking strategy.
The fact is networking is one of the most cost-effective routes to market. Done well, it can generate a surprisingly high proportion of your new business - some accomplished networkers have even reported figures of 90 per cent and more.

When most people think of networking, they think of it as something you do to meet new people. However, might I suggest defining networking as 'developing deeper relationships of mutual benefit with people you already know' and using the term  reaching out  to mean 'meeting people that you don't yet know but would like to know'? Of course, ultimately, it doesn't really matter which words you use but, rather that you make a distinction between meeting new people and staying connected with the people you already know.
If you make this important distinction, it can help you stay focused on each area specifically and deliberately.  Follow the six steps below to develop a practical and straightforward networking strategy that will work for you and your business - and fit on a sheet of A4 paper:

1.  HAVE A CLEAR VISION - Have a clear understanding and vision of the result you want to achieve  with whatever you undertake. Many of us set our objectives without ever having a clear idea of  what it is that we actually want. In fact, I have asked some of my coaching clients to end our  sessions as some of them simply did not know what they want. Once we know what it is we  want, we can ask the right networking and other questions and decide accordingly.

2.  SET – Set  your networking objectives?  What do you want to achieve as a result of your  networking activities to achieve the vision for your personal and professional life? Are you  looking to win new business?  How much business?  Are you looking for a job? What kind of  position are you looking for and where must it be?

3.  AUDIT - Assess the relevance of your current network (online and offline): can they help you to  realize your vision and achieve your goals? Are your current networking activities helping you to  realize your vision and achieve your goals? Do you have the right skill set to build a solid  network? Do you have an effective follow up and follow through strategy. Are your ‘keeping  in touch’ strategies working or do you have any? What are you doing to teach your network  to trust you? Are you sending the right signals to demonstrate that they will be safe in your  hands?

4.  FIND - Who do you need to meet, and where and how are you going to meet them? Are they in  closed or open networks? Will they increase diversity in my network? Do they know who you  need to know? This is way beyond your social relationships including family and friends … they  don't count.  How can you meet new people on LinkedIn, Twitter or by  becoming a  member of your local professional body?

5.  BUILD - What will you do to grow the relationship from just a name, to a deep, strong and highly  mutually beneficial relationship? How will you increase your likeability? Who will you choose to  deepen the relationship with?

6.  MAINTAIN - What will you do to keep your relationships relevant? How will you stay recent and  potent in their minds?  After all, if your network never hears from you or sees you, the  relationship will gradually die?

Dubbed 'A Networking Guru’ by Finweek - one of South Africa’s leading financial magazines and founder of Business Networking South Africa, Karl Smith is an author, speaker, coach and Personal Brand Strategist.

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