What would you put into a networking plan and what would it look like? It’s generally accepted that with a plan you are much more likely to achieve your objectives, but what would you put into a networking plan? It’s a great question and one I was asked a few times recently. Here’s my answer. What would you put in a plan if you had your time again?
An networking plan and the best time to plant a tree, are the same....

The question

The specific question was “I am trying to set up a networking plan for the next 12 months and need some guidance on what it should look like? I run a new small business and I do not get a chance to get out of the office too much”
How would you answer that and do you take all your own advice? When would you have started if you had your time again?

Before creating the plan.

A plan should look different for every business, but there might be four key elements, tailored to suit your needs. But before starting, I’d ask myself:
  1. What do I mean by networking and how far I might push that?  ‘How far might I push that‘ depends on the effort you’re prepared to exert, which depends on what you expect to get back (see point 2). What is networking for you? Networking could mean any number of activities (e.g. networking through social media, keeping in touch with people in your network, deepening relationships with specific people in your network, creating strategic partners (those that could help you), or simply attending lots of breakfast events.
  2. What is my networking objective? That’s to say what do you want to achieve using ‘networking’ in 3 years time? Now, working backwards what’s your objective for the next twelve months? Your goal might be things like ‘to secure x amounts of new business from network contacts“, or “to generate x% of my business through strategic partners in the year” or “to have x serious business discussions with people I meet through my network in the next 12 months“, or any number of variations. The objective will help to steer how you go about creating the networking plan.

Creating a networking plan

Now you know what it is and what you hope to get, you can think about the plan

  • Specific people: Name the people who are most likely to be able to help you with your networking objective. Focus on less than 10, and you’ll possibly refine this (depending on what else you’re also trying to do). You might initially think of professions but try to go for specific names. Some you already know, some you might need introductions to. Map these people onto the relationship triangle. Now, create a plan for how you will get your relationship with each of these individuals to the point where they can help you.
  • Your credibility: What do you need to do over the next few months to ensure that people believe in you and your service? That might be about working on you as a person and how you deliver your message. It might cover your credibility story and might be about working on things like testimonials and how you use them (many firms have them, but don’t make much use of them). This need not involve leaving the office.
  • Your message: How clear is the message you give about your service? Do some research with some of your network to find out how clear they are about it, and the benefits of it. That’s more than asking ‘Do you understand what I do’! It’s more about getting them to repeat back their understanding. This can be done on the phone, or face to face. Work on the basis that if they get it ‘wrong‘, it’s your fault. What are the steps you now need to do that will improve this understanding?
  • Accountability: How will you track the actions you’ve said you will do, and your progress towards your objectives? That might be monthly reviews, getting somebody to ask you specific questions, or getting a monthly coaching session. The result of the review is to improve your focus and fine-tune your actions.

What do you put in your networking plan and how often do you review it?

Jon BakerWritten by Jon Baker The 5-50 Coach. I help professionals grow their firms from 5 to 50 employees, sustainably, profitably and still have fun. Networking is a key part of getting great results in small firms. If you want great networking tips sent to your desk once a month, click here and I will start sending them to you, so you can make a real difference to your referrals.