How to Segment Your Networking Targets
First break down the people you hope to network with into three broad categories:
- Easy: Establishing a connection is unlikely to gain you much but should definitely help them.
- Medium: Establishing a mutually beneficial relationship is fairly straightforward; what you can provide and what they can provide is relatively equal.
- Reach: Establishing a connection with these folks is at the far end of possibility; you have little to offer compared to what they can provide.
We’ll use the wedding photography business as an example since it’s an industry I know a lot about. In addition to ghostwriting I’ve been a wedding photographer for years. We’ve won awards, been published in major magazines, done high profile weddings, etc. (I only mention all that to set the stage for what follows.)
In networking terms here’s how we can segment our targets:
Easy: Local florists, cake shops, carriages, venues, wedding planners, etc. These vendors are delighted when we offer them photos or other “stuff.” What do we get in return? Realistically, not much; couples don’t tend to ask their florist for a wedding photographer recommendation. If you like to prioritize, you could put florists and cake shops at the “least potential return” end of the scale and wedding planners and reception venues at the “greatest potential return” end of the scale, since couples do occasionally ask wedding planners and venues for advice about photographers.
Medium: Sought-after venues, respected wedding planners, etc. These folks are, for want of a better way to put it, “at our level” because we tend to serve clients in the same spending demographic. Venues like the Congressional Country Club, the Boar’s Head Inn, The Greenbrier, The Jefferson… they’re in our wheelhouse. They appreciate, for example, getting photos from us to use for promotional purposes since the images are great and the connection reflects well on them. We benefit for the same reason. Plus they’re happy to provide referrals because they know we’ll come through for their clients — as we know they will for ours. Work hard on this list (you’ll see why in a moment.)
Reach: Our work has appeared in bridal magazines but we’re by no means a go-to source for the top wedding media outlets. We land occasional features, but being seen regularly in, say, The Knot or Martha Stewart Weddings would be difficult since thousands of other wedding photographers are dying for the opportunity as well. High effort, low odds of return.
You should segment your targets the same way. Think of where you currently stand in your industry and market and make lists of Easy, Medium, and Reach targets. Then feel free to prioritize each segment in terms of potential return.
Then allocate the time you spend to networking each segment like this:
- Easy: 20%. It doesn’t take much time to connect with easy targets. That’s a good thing since you’re unlikely to receive much in return. But occasionally you might, and you can also feel good about helping other entrepreneurs.
- Medium: 70%. Connecting takes a little more time and the return is definitely worth it. Establishing mutually beneficial connections is what networking is all about, so spend the bulk of your time here.
- Reach: 10%: Go ahead and go after the Seth Godins if you feel you must, but don’t expect any return. (He’s a nice guy but he doesn’t need you.) Cultivating a relationship with reach targets takes a long time so there’s definitely no need to hurry.
Keep in mind some of the people in your Reach segment will naturally shift into your Medium segment as your reputation and business grows — and some of your Mediums will slide into the Easy zone. The privilege of connecting with influential businesspeople is earned, not given. As your business grows, so will your list of Medium and Easy targets.
Once you’ve segmented your targets, it’s time to make contact.