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Monday, September 27, 2010
17 months ago I moved to a new city. Although business still happens in my previous city - where my network is strong and the need continues - in the new I needed to get very strategic about business development.
I am a networker, realizing the value of relationship and referrals for my service-focused communication coaching business. A sole proprietor, I must ask for help from my network to generate word-of-mouth buzz and uncover needs through referral. With this help, I can spend a portion of my week prospecting/networking/marketing, another portion in client-focused time, some portion on administrative tasks and yet another on research/development. Sole proprietors know the need to make good use of our time as well as to diversify our activity to cover the priority bases.
So when it comes to networking in a new location to quickly develop relationships that lead to referral, I need a strategy. From my training with the Certified Networker program, I understand that entering a new area where I had no network posed not only a challenge, but an opportunity.
There are some key steps I use in my networking strategy that hold me accountable and focused, giving me powerful results today. I help attorneys speak with confidence, whether they are networking, working within their firm environment, business building or in the courtroom. I have spoken at 2 attorney professional associations, in sub-groups within the local bar association, within several firms for luncheon meetings. I coach several as individuals and now operate as a coach within firms. All this in the space of 17 months' focus.
My success is built around a strategy. Because it takes trial and error, some of the steps within the strategy have a less structured and some a more structured approach. Regardless, these 3 steps were vital to me.
Strategy for Developing a Business Network
1. Select a target market. With this selection, I hone a focus. Eventhough my services can apply to all industries, I can't become an expert for all industries. Nor can I create a word-of-mouth buzz in all industries. I must select one. For me this was attorneys. Like me, the majority of them are introverts. Introverts suffer the most from insecurity, especially when taking a risk. Speaking in public, let alone to those unlike us often challenge us into avoidance. With attorneys I can be an expert.
2. Select methods of networking with the target market Notice this is not about "reaching" them. This is about "connecting" with them. Reaching can be through online presence, direct mail material, email marketing programs. But connecting, actually having a face-to-face experience, is required for reaching my select market. Here is where both social media and traditional networking combine for a powerful impact.
My previous contacts in my Linked-In network were a huge resource to me. Searching their contacts in my new location, I discovered several who could intercede on my behalf simply so I could start face-to-face networking without making a cold call. When I asked them for assistance, they delivered. Prior to moving here, I had 2 months of meetings lined up.
While meeting face to face, I had a list of referral requests - not for business but for assistance. They didn't know me at all, so I knew my requests needed to be general. For instance,
a. "where do you network?"
b. "would you be willing to invite me to join you next time?"
c. "what do you know about the (target market) industry?"
d. if applicable, "where do they network?"
Once I gained exposure to networking events/options/environments, I broadened my time spent exploring. I would eventually (for me, a year) determine which environments or events to commit to. For now, I was learning/trying out what worked for me.
3. Decide who to maintain a continual follow-up with. Not all individuals I meet with will be a constant appointment. Not even most of them. One appt tells me whether there is value in friendship, target market, information/expertise, etc. If the value exists, another meeting is scheduled before I leave. If it doesn't, no need to reschedule.
My attorney-coaching practice grew as a result of three key things: Giving public speeches (number one business builder), building trusting relationships through networking, and getting referrals.
3 attorneys I met with as a result of seeing them on LinkedIn, lobbied their professional organizations for my opportunity to speak in front of them. Some of them seriously connected me within their industry to firms and/or key individuals. This came as a result of following up with them regularly - they became my referral partners.
Through networking I developed fun, energetic and serious relationships with another handful of people who either began using me as their coach or referring me to others.
In time I learned where to network, who to keep on my calendar and how to hone services especially for my target market. This continues to give me "buzz" in the attorney industry as the Go-To person for helping them develop confidence whether through their speaking or their relationship-building.
The key here, for those of us needing to build our own business, is to have a strategy. Although networking all over the place can be important just to get started, it isn't the rule of thumb. When we network all over the place, we put priorities all over the place. Which actually means - we have no priorities. We don't specialize in groups of people, we specialize in ourselves. We serve no industry, we serve only ourselves. And ultimately, we serve only ourselves by squandering all our time.
Let me know in what ways this strategy serves your target market.