Determine What You Should Provide
A continual focus on “giving” might seem odd or off-putting, but remember: Networking is based on a mutual exchange of value. An exchange requires giving and receiving. By giving first you set the stage.
But what you give doesn’t have to cost a lot, even though it’s valuable:
- Appreciation. Few people receive enough praise, so unsolicited accolades make a memorable impact. (Just like flowers you send a loved one when it’s not a special occasion.) Watch for something a target has accomplished or done well and congratulate them. Keep it simple, to the point, don’t ask for anything, don’t mention what you do or how they can help you… just say “well done” or “thanks” and make sure your contact information is at the bottom of the email or note. I guarantee they’ll check you out on their own.
- Advice. Providing advice must be handled gracefully because unsolicited input can easily sound like a sales pitch: “You may not realize it but email marketing can boost your sales by 20%!” Instead find a way to give truly helpful advice. A friend runs an ad agency and sent a target a note: “We recently conducted a traffic survey while conducting market research for a client and determined 25,000 vehicles pass his location (and therefore yours) between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. each weekday. Since your sign isn’t lit, thousands of potential customers don’t see it…” He didn’t close with the typical “Call us if we can help you…” line because valuable advice serves as its own calling card.
- Assistance. The best tangible assistance is a by-product of something you already do; otherwise it’s a sample. Photographing wedding cakes for our couples is a standard function but also one we can leverage since bakers appreciate great photos of their work. Think about what you do internally or for customers and determine how you can leverage those existing efforts to benefit your networking targets. With a little creativity you’ll find plenty of possibilities. Just don’t stray into the “sample” zone, because then in effect you’re doing work on spec. Always leverage what you already do.
- Referrals. Making referrals should also be handled gracefully. Don’t say, “I’m referring a client to you so by gosh you better send some work my way in return.” Instead call to give a heads up and provide useful information about the referral. For example, I might call a wedding planner we respect and say, “We gave a client your number because we know you do a great job. They want a fairly traditional and slightly understated reception, but their ceremony will be more complicated than usual and getting the details right is really important to them….” Then planner benefits in two ways: They get a solid referral as well as plenty of time to prepare so they can make a great impression when our client calls.
Think about what potential networking partners need. What will they appreciate? What can you provide that is beneficial? What can you do that actually helps them?
Reach out and provide real value and you will quickly establish positive relationships. But it’s also easy to go overboard on making those connections, so let’s make sure you don’t spend too much time networking.