Is networking the same as business development? The short answer is “it can be”. But in practice it doesn’t work out that way. Most people, including yours truly when I first started consulting, fall into the trap of equating the two.
“If I just go to more networking events I’m bound to find more prospects” is one version of the thought process on this subject. Wrong. In fact, more indiscriminate networking generally results in exactly the opposite result. You spend more time shaking hands, exchanging business cards, and spending money for attendance fees then you do developing business opportunity for yourself.
Like everything else in sales, and in life for that matter, it is important to develop a plan. Even if you are a solo entrepreneur, you should do a “Go to Market” analysis. If you think you can’t do it on your own hire a professional who can. Or use a tried and true methodology, like the one outlined in “The Chasm Companion: Implementing Effective Marketing Strategies for High-Technology Companies” by Paul Wiefels (Buy It Here). It is not just for high tech companies by the way.
At least start by answering questions like these:
– What is my target market and who is my target buyer?
– Where does that target buyer spend her time? Business and/or personal?
– How can I build a relationship with this type of person?
– How can I be introduced to these buyers?
– How can I establish myself as a trusted expert in my field of expertise in their minds?
– What tools can help me accomplish my goals in this area?
The answers to these questions go beyond the title of this blog entry so allow me to narrow the response to just the act of networking. Every time you are presented with a networking opportunity – with an individual or an event – ask yourself if it furthers your business goals. For events you need to specifically challenge yourself with questions like the following. Are the right people going to be there? Will I have an opportunity to interact with them? Is the agenda conducive to my objectives?
If not, don’t spend the money. Don’t spend the time.
If so, then think about what you are going to do at the event or in the one-on-one meeting. In an event, how will you decide who to meet and with whom to have a brief conversation? Exchanging business cards with twenty-five people is not effective business development. Identifying two or three people ahead of time, or during introductions, and then spending fifteen quality minutes with each of them, is good networking and business development.
Read some great books on the subject. Here is one I particularly like. “Conversations on Networking: finding, developing, and maintaining relationships for business and life” by Kay Keenan and Steven Smolinsky. (Buy It Here).
I also saw an interesting blog post on the subject recently by Scott Ginsberg of RainToday.com. It’s entitled “Tips for Improving Your Networking Know-How” and you can read it by clicking here.
Business development isn’t easy. Effective networking for any purpose takes thought and discipline. And it is easy to fall back into bad behavior even after you know better. Trust me; I know.