How to build your networking strategy: Overview

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Heather Townsend
Director
The Excedia Group
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In this series of six weekly articles for TrainingZone, Heather Townsend will take you through, using a fictitious trainer called Juliet, how to create your very own networking strategy.

If you read any blog or book about networking, you will hear that you have to have a networking strategy or purpose to network effectively. However, how many times have you seen an article taking you step by step through how to create your networking strategy? Or one that is solely focused on the unique requirements of trainers?

Before we start looking at what we mean by a networking strategy, it’s useful to identify what we mean by effective business networking. Everyone, whether we realise it or not, is networking all the time and has their own network. Let’s be honest here, networking is just the process of communicating to another person, be it via a phone call, email, letter, face-to-face meeting, Twitter, blog comment or Facebook status update. However, when I use the word 'networking', what instantly comes into mind? I bet it isn’t anything to do with LinkedIn! So many trainers equate networking with working the room. Not just any old room; one filled with strangers, topped off with fear, dread and some warm white wine and curled up dry sandwiches...

Actually, working the room is only a small part of effective business networking. Effective business networking is the process of finding, building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. It’s this definition that provides the framework for designing your personal networking strategy.

"A clear and concise personal networking strategy will allow you to make the decisions as to 'what' networking activities you will do, i.e. your networking plan. If you implement your networking plan, you will, if it all goes to plan, achieve your networking goals."

If the definition of effective business networking provides the framework for your personal networking strategy, what do we actually mean by a networking strategy? A networking strategy details how you will achieve your goals via your networking activities. A clear and concise personal networking strategy will allow you to make the decisions as to 'what' networking activities you will do, i.e. your networking plan. If you implement your networking plan, you will, if it all goes to plan, achieve your networking goals. It is this absence of a joined up, well thought through personal networking strategy which leads to many trainers failing to network effectively.

There are five stages to creating an effective networking strategy.

  • Stage 1: Create your networking goals - i.e. what do you want to achieve as a result of your networking activities. Are you looking to win new business? Find other trainers to collaborate with, or find your next role?
  • Stage 2: Audit - i.e. assess the suitability of your current network, networking activities, keeping in touch strategies etc, to help you achieve your networking goals.
  • Stage 3: Find - i.e. who do you need to meet, and where and how are you going to meet them. Will you bump into them on LinkedIn, Twitter or by becoming a member of your local CIPD branch?
  • Stage 4: Build - i.e. what will you do to progress the relationship from just a name, to a deep, strong and highly beneficial relationship? How will you choose who to deepen the relationship with? What will be your criteria for ‘A, B or C-listers‘ or which introducers will be in your ‘inner’, ‘middle’ or ‘outer circle’? How will you define what you mean by an ‘inner’, ‘middle’ or ‘outer circle’?
  • Stage 5: Maintain - i.e. what will you do to keep your relationships ticking over? After all, if your network never hears from you or sees you, the relationship will gradually wither and die. This is your ‘keeping-in-touch’ strategy.

If you complete each stage, your networking plan will almost write itself. The difference between your networking strategy and networking plan is:

Your networking strategy tells you ‘how’ you will achieve your networking goals, whereas your networking plan is what you will do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis and the projects/campaigns you will run to achieve your networking goals.

In the next article in this series on building a personal networking strategy, we will look at the first stage in the process - defining your networking goals.

Heather Townsend helps professionals become the ‘Go To Expert’. She is the author of the award-winning and best-selling book on networking, ‘The FT Guide to Business Networking’, and the co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’. Heather regularly blogs at ‘Joined Up Networking’ and ‘How to make partner

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