Networking is often identified as a key business building activity for small business owners, especially those just getting started. Often we think of networking as meeting as many new people as possible. However often, as was pointed out to me following a recent presentation I gave on networking, we overlook a key group of people as we set out to develop our network. And that is those people we already know.
Incorporating the people you already know into your networking activities is crucial because you already have a relationship with them.
They are people with whom you already have credibility.
They already know the quality of your work.
Therefore, you don't have to go through the relationship and credibility building stages before these contacts are willing to do business with you or recommend you to others.
Many of the people you already know may be people you haven't spoken with in awhile and most certainly if you are just getting started with your business, they have known you in another context. So how do you begin to develop an active network of these individuals?
Develop a list. Start by developing a list of everyone you have worked for in the past, everyone who has worked for you, and those people you have worked with. If it does not raise legal or ethical issues, consider clients or customers you have worked with in former positions. Include family, friends and associates from other activities that you have participated in such as civic organizations, church or social/hobby groups. Go through your address book, both the one you currently use and any old ones you might have lying around; review membership lists of any organizations you belong to; if you have phone directories for any companies you used to work for or client listings from these companies review those.
Prioritize the list. If you are like most people, your list will probably be pretty long and it may seem like a daunting task to begin reconnecting and re-establishing relationships with those you are no longer in contact with. Prioritize the list with those who are most likely to have a need for your services or know someone who is likely to have a need at the top.
Gather contact information. It is likely that you have lost touch with at least some of the individuals on your list. Who do you have contact information for that might be able to provide you with a current telephone number or e-mail address for someone else on your list? The process of collecting contact information for those you have lost contact with is a great way to begin the process of reconnecting with those on your list that you do know how to reach.
Commit time to the process. Commit a set amount of time each week to re-connect and maintain contact with the people identified above. This is not about making a phone call, shooting off an e-mail or sending out a letter to let these individuals know about your business. It is the process of re-establishing and maintaining relationships with these individuals.
Look for ways that you can assist and support them. Before you make a request for help from the person you are connecting with, think about ways you can be of assistance to them. When you contact someone from your list, especially if it is someone you have not had contact with on an ongoing basis, tell them you want to update them on what you are doing and that you want to find out about what they are doing. Ask them what they need and how you might be of assistance. If appropriate based on your previous relationship, re-connect on a personal level as well as a business level. Ask how the kids are and what they're doing now.
Stay in touch. Networking is about relationships and relationships require ongoing contact and communication. The most effective way to maintain contact is to follow-up with referrals, information, or ideas that you can assist them with. It is not about calling once a month or once a quarter to see if they have any business or any referrals for you.
Don't neglect those lower on your list. Don't overlook those individuals who did not make the top of your list, especially if they are people whom you have or had a strong connection with. These people may be able to assist you (and you may be able to assist them) in ways you never even dreamed of.
Incorporate everyone into your "Rolodex". In this age of computerized address books and PDAs it is easy to maintain an up-to-date address book and carry it with you everywhere you go. You never know when you might be able to provide a referral for one of the members of your network and it is powerful to be able to provide their name and contact information right on the spot. Add them to the mailing list for your newsletter, Holiday Cards, and any other mailings you might do. It's just one more way to maintain ongoing contact.
Focusing on the people you already know to jumpstart your network can be not only profitable but also very enjoyable as you reconnect with old friends and re-establish neglected relationships.
? 2003 Strategies-by-DESIGN. May be reprinted with credits and contact information.
Julie Chance is president of Strategies-by-DESIGN, a Dallas based firm that helps businesses from professional services firms to specialty retailers Map A Path to Success by developing more leads, turning those leads into loyal customers, and obtaining a greater return from their marketing investment. The firm provides marketing consulting, training and skills based coaching. For more information or to sign up for their free marketing tips newsletter go to http://www.strategies-by-design.com or call 972-701-9311.