What would you say if you were asked if a new business owner have a different networking focus to an established one? I was recently, and spent some time thinking about it. It is a great question, links partly to your objectives and “When should I specialise?”; but here’s my thoughts.
Four networking issues
Firstly what are the things you should consider, when building your personal networking strategy?
- Size matters? Well not really! I included it as many people talk about it and in theory the larger your network, the more likely you are to know people that know people, and that are ready (and able) to help you. But do I think it’s critical to rush out and get a big network? No, the more sensible answer is to spend time developing the right people; which in turn needs you to be clear on what you want.
- The amount your network knows about what you do and trust that you can do it well (being ready to help you): Nobody is likely to help anybody if they don’t know what you do and trust you to help their precious contacts. With a large client history it might be easier to generate trust in you and what you do, in the interim a good case history file and getting people to really understand what you do is important. The other essential element here is absolute clarity about who you help, how you help them and what they get from it; this something that most people don’t really think enough about. Can you be the The Go-To Expert without it?
- Likelihood of your network knowing the right people (ability to help you): Everybody might know somebody that you want to talk to. But life is short, so let’s prioritise. Here’s where I break another mantra of many networking groups. Focusing on the people you think most likely to be able to help makes sense (as long as you know who they are), but not to the exclusion of everybody else making you seem rude.
- Depth of your relationship with your network (willing to help you): In the end, if you know the right people and trust I’ll do a job you might refer me to a friend of yours. But you’d be a lot more likely to go out of your way if we have a strong relationship. So it is with the people that you are trying to network with.
Which are the most important for a new business owner?
- Ready to help you. This is important for all networkers, not just new ones, and something that most people get wrong. If I think hard, I might know what you do; but how often does an unpaid sales force (err, that’s your network) think hard on your behalf? What is your really clear message, have you tested it (can be a great use of one to one meetings) on who you help and how? How is it backed with credibility (case studies, or testimonials)? If you’re new on the scene a good idea can be to do some low priced work, in exchange for a case study.
- Able to help you? What types of professions (people, locations of people, or other “segment”) is most likely to be able to help you? This needs thinking through and testing as you develop your networking strategy. What different types of network, professional organisations etc. would work best? When you’ve been doing it for a long time, you’ll have these networks set up. New business owners may need to find them.
- Willing to help you: People are more likely to help when you have a stronger relationship with them. Everybody says they know this and virtually nobody does anything about it. Action:– List those most able and most willing to help you and audit the strength of relationship you have with each. Build the relationship with the right people; sometimes it won’t work, more often it will. Get the right people to the top of the relationship triangle, and then keep them there.
Actually all of those are important for all networkers, old or new; older ones have (hopefully) more of the right people in the right places.
The real priority for a new business owner.
The main thing I’d focus the new business owner on is time management! Firstly, think long term
- how much time will you spend on regular marketing when you are as chargeable as you want to be?
- How much time will you allocate for admin and some for developing yourself? There is a tendency for admin to grow out of proportion to operations and marketing, set yourself a target now.
Here’s the fun bit. Before you’re fully chargeable, the admin and development activities don’t need to be any larger than when you’re fully chargeable. Manage yourself to give all your non-chargeable time to marketing activities (incl. networking).