The goal of a truly effective personal networking strategy is to position yourself as a trusted resource within groups or associations comprised of your best prospects. Effective networking is not about joining the Chamber of Commerce, paying your membership dues, and attending a mixer a few times a year.
To make your networking effective, you need to get involved, contribute your time and expertise, and meet and build relationships with the key influencers within your target market. This is how you become a true niche insider – a business everyone knows and trusts and goes out of their way to refer business to.
Start the process by niche networking: choosing groups comprised of your best prospects and avoiding time-consuming, unfocused networking opportunities with little long term potential to stand out among your best prospects and clients.
Once you join a group, you need to go out of your way to get involved in key programs and committees -- to position yourself as a center of influence, and turn yourself into a center of influence by directing your efforts at the networking "hubs" within any business sector.
R.A. Miller & Company, Inc., a consulting firm that works with food, beverage, chemical, and lubricant packagers, recently landed a big contract: to modernize the packaging facilities of a multinational company. It was an entrepreneur’s dream.
How did Roger Miller, the company president, reel in this big catch? Miller joined a high-profile trade association in his target market, the packaging industry, where he could meet the "movers and shakers" of that industry.
He didn’t just join it; he got actively involved in the association. He volunteered to become a member of a high-profile committee, and worked on behalf of association members. This raised his visibility among key association executives, and helped Miller get to know his prospects personally. His involvement also helped him establish trust, while demonstrating his knowledge, expertise and competence.
When a committee member heard of a large project where Roger's specific talents, industry experience, and knowledge were required, he recommended Roger to the ultimate decision-maker for the large project. This opened the door for Roger to meet with the client, make a presentation, present a quotation, and eventually get the project.
For small businesses, rubbing shoulders and building relationships with key decision-makers and influencers within your target market is the best way to develop a stream of high quality leads and referrals.
A great book on the subject is Bob Burg’s Endless Referrals, which goes into detail on how to make business networking a seamless, yet profoundly effective business marketing strategy.