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5 Most Effective Strategies to Grow Your Network

Calling all non-schmoozers! I've devised a plan... heh heh heh....

By nature I’m a crummy networker. I know this might strike you as odd, coming from someone who teaches how to attract business, but this is a fact. I’m a crummy social networker, I’m a crummy Happy Hour go-er, I’m a crummy Chamber of Commerce attendee, and in general I’m a crummy schmoozer. When given a choice I’d rather go to the small dinner party rather than to the bar, would rather be one to one coaching a client friend than stand in front of a crowd and speak; no one would ever mistake me for the “life of the party.” That would have been my ex husbands job. And I was glad he was there to take on that role as it got me off the hook and allowed me to cringe in the corner.

One can see how this might prove a bit problematic given my field of choice, which relies heavily on attracting clients so that I can help others do the same.

So early on I realized that if I really wanted to help others expand their reach to gain new customers that I needed to lead by example... you know... walk the walk. Hence I’ve developed a series of systems that have not only worked for me, but have allowed me to expand my “list” and networking reach 4x within the past two years. And growing. 

Here are my top 5 techniques designed to increase your exposure and expand your list of targeted clients. Try them with consistency and discipline and I promise you that within six months you will have increased your presence in front of an audience that looks forward to your involvement and needs your services:

1) Attend targeted networking events

Unless you are there for strictly educational purposes, nothing says waste of time quite like attending networking events where your main audience is your competition. That is if your goal is to expand your reach and gain clients. Make sure you’re being strategic when choosing what networking events you choose to attend by choosing events and organizations that your target audience has a reason to be at. And bring cards, please dear God.

2) Volunteer

If your target market is local, volunteering for a position in front of the attendees (like sign in person, list builder, event planner, marketing person, etc.) will not only keep you in the spotlight in front of your audience but will give you a handle on the audience themselves, so that you can connect later. Just make sure you’re not expected to be tied to a table for the entire event. Kind of defeats the purpose, right?

3) Reach out to a stranger

Every day. Make a list of folks who could have a definite benefit for you and your career in the long run, and reach out even if you are scared.

Out of your comfort zone? Yes, mine too, but so what? Chances are that if you word your email in a respectful way that shows your reverence and appreciation of what they’ve done to either further their own career, be a thought leader, teach you everything you know today, show you the path to enlightenment, fill in the blank, they will be honored that you have reached out to them.

Ask them a question so as to keep the conversation alive and elicit a response from them; i.e.: “Thanks so much for what you’ve offered the world of online marketing. Without your contributions my business would be in the toilet right now. Can I ask you who your mentors were?”

Make sure it’s authentic. Inauthentic just appears stalkery.

4) Connect with social media connections.

Notice I don’t say make sure you’re all over social media. Use it to your advantage but if your target market is not tweeting, has no idea what a “Twitter” is and has no interest in ever doing that chirpy thing, don’t waste your time on Twitter!

Rather, make sure that your time on the social media sites that they are frequenting is being used smartly. Ask questions, be there to answer them, reach out to the aforementioned strangers named above here, using it as a forum to engage and expand. Join groups that might be looking for your knowledge, not groups of your colleagues, again unless you are there to educate yourself and search for strategic alliances. If your purpose is to connect with attorneys, find legal sites that these attorneys are on already and form relationships there by asking questions, looking for a need (read the feeds!) and be there to be an expert on that “need” with either a comment, a link to your blog or a question. 

Oh, and please when connecting with folks on Linked In, I will personally come and chop off your fingers if you send the default message which says “I’d like to connect with you on Linked In." Come on, you can do better than that. Make it personal. This is the perfect opportunity to connect — don’t blow it.

5) Form strategic alliances with folks in similar but not competing professions

Think about this: you're a mortgage provider. Your strategic alliances, your sphere of influence, are for the most part real estate attorneys and realtors. Create alliances to benefit both of you, by either having a link placed on each others websites or by having the realtor send out an email from her list talking you up, endorsing you, and offering a wonderful incentive or a new program you happen to running, by clicking into a link right in the email that will bring them directly to a landing page you’ve set up specifically for this service, with a call to action right on that page and an obvious opt-in.

What if you did this with your top 10 realtors? You have now expanded your reach to include all of their lists. Think of ways you can make this up to them without getting either one of you arrested and you now have a great big new network of potential clients.

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Oh, I’ve got so many more, which I’m putting together now into a big fat e-book, so stay tuned, and in the meantime, start applying these techniques consistently, on a regular basis and see what happens. That’s the only way it works. Let me know how it works out for you.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Rick Van Akin May 02, 2012 at 11:42 AM
Crummy networker? Hey, I identify with that remark! I was chatting with a friend at a recent Chamber event where we noted that we were crummy networkers because we came to the event only to talk to people we already know. It looked like many others were doing the same thing. Then I said hello to another friend who did not know the first friend and I introduced them. Well, they started having a real nice networking conversation, so I went over to another group where I knew one person, but not the others and networking took place! I didn't feel like such a crummy networker after all. I was kind of proud of myself in fact, except I fell crummy about how I handle that awkward introduction moment! I freeze up and say something dull and boring like, "how about the weather we are having?" Can you suggest some good conversation starters that are not dull or boring? I am looking for something that people will remember me with a "hey, I met this smart, funny guy that may be able to help you." I am tired of being crummy. Thanks.
Bob Bellantuono May 02, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Suzen – Great post. I couldn’t agree more about not using the default LinkedIn message. Rick – I see this all the time…people only talking to people that they know. They can do that outside of the networking meeting. But it sounds as if you self-corrected..great! At a recent networking meeting I attended, a presenter, David Volkman gave a great presentation and provided a handout on networking, entitled “Effective Networking – The Handbook”. My main take away from his presentation was his pay it forward philosophy to networking: “Networking activities are intended to create opportunities to meet new people in which I might develop a relationship with, and then possibly introduce those people to others I already know, for the sole purpose of helping them.” The other key thing David provided (and Rick, you might be interested in this) are 4 questions to ask: 1. What do you do for a living? (or…what do you like about your work?) 2. What makes your phone ring? 3. How do you find new centers of influence (referral sources)? 4. How can I best introduce you to someone I know? In addition to all of Suzens points made above, perhaps if we approach networking with the thought of learning about others and how we might be able to help them, it might make networking easier and eventually come back around to us in a positive way. I welcome any feedback and please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you. Bob
Tara R. Alemany May 03, 2012 at 03:25 AM
You are most definitely *not* a crummy networker, Rick! As a matter of fact, I believe I was that friend in the first group that you introduced to someone I didn't know. Thanks for doing that! What you perceived as awkwardness on your part deflected attention from my own awkwardness and, potentially, eased the discomfort of the person you were introducing me to. So, thanks for taking that first step! For me, what I try to do in similar circumstances is try to come up with just one thing about each person I'm introducing that is unique about them. It doesn't even have to be related to business! I'm just looking for that "hook" that will help both parties remember each other. For instance, if I were introducing you to someone, given recent events in your life, I'd let the other person know that you're the proud father of a new Eagle scout! It's unusual enough that the other person would remember that. Then, I'd also share your line of work as a follow-on. The two together would cement who you are in the listener's mind. But it's the distinctive element that sets you apart and makes you memorable. I can guarantee, I don't remember what the weather was that night. Lol!
Suzen Pettit May 03, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Great points Bob and Tara---Tara i love your mission to connect people through their unique characteristics. That's what people will remember about someone else-their uniqueness, much more than what they do for a living....you can ease the conversation into that once the ice has been broken from "regular conversation". Beautiful!

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