If you're smart, and I know you are (you're reading this blog, aren't you?), then you'll be using networking to market your business this year. Whether it's face to face networking or online networking using social media sites, you'll need a strategy in order to be effective.
After all, networking is a marketing tool and you wouldn't just start using random marketing strategies without a plan, would you? (Of course not! You're smart — see above)
So, how do you create a networking strategy?
First, you start with your business goals.
This is where most people make their biggest mistakes in networking — they simply attend events and join groups without taking into consideration what their overall business goals are. This is like going to Lowe's or Home Depot to buy tools without knowing what project you'll be working on. You need to know what you hope to accomplish so that you can choose the right tools for the job.
Same is true for networking — your "tools" would be the various types of networking activities like chamber events, referral groups, online discussion forums, social networking sites, one-on-one meetings, etc.
What are your specific business goals for 2010? For the next 3 months? For the next 30 days? For this week?
Your answers to these questions will help you decide which venues and strategies will help you reach these goals.
For instance, if your business goal is to strengthen your brand recognition within your industry, then you'll want to attend events and be visible within groups that will help you do that. A potential activity could be working closely with your referral partners to educate them on what exactly you do, who you are and "your brand" that you wish to share with others.
Another activity could be to take a more visible role within a local group, such as an ambassador or membership chair for the Chamber of Commerce or a community liaison for a non-profit group such as Dress For Success. Positions such as these should afford you the opportunity for visibility and allow you to promote your brand.
If, on the other hand, your business goal is to increase the number of purchases from current clients or customers, then your strategy could involve activities such as hosting events or specials for current customers. Or, perhaps you'll want to be a more frequent participant in online forums and social networking sites where your clients and customers "hang out" — sharing good information on your area of expertise through Facebook, providing answers on LinkedIn, or offering special promotions for your readers of your blog.
The types of networking activities you could participate in are endless, so it's essential for you to choose those which will give you the most return on your investment of time, effort and money.
Before "getting out there and networking," be sure to know where you hope to end up, so you take the best path to get there.
I'll be sharing the next step in creating your networking strategy tomorrow, so be sure to do the first step today!