Most people agree that networking is a good thing. We see it happen and get inspired by incredible success stories.But where many of us struggle is in the execution; indeed it can be challenging to figure out how to get truly useful results from your efforts. Sometimes it feels like networking is just a string of meetings and phone calls you have to make as you search for that perfect contact. This happens when you approach networking as a set of isolated tasks. But the most important benefits of networking will be missed if you reduce this strategic priority to a list of tasks you need to check off. The value is unlocked when you leverage types and styles of networking to help you achieve a goal. By transforming your networking efforts into tools in your toolkit you will be able to see the bigger picture, and make networking an active part of meeting your business goals.
Plan Differently: Network with an objective and goal that links to your business.
Before you attend your first event or plan your first meeting, you need a networking goal. This goal should not be created in a vacuum — instead, it should link to one of your overall business goals. This is an exercise that makes networking the solution or tool that can help you break through roadblocks or challenges you’ve faced in the past (or anticipate facing in the future). Instead of counting the number of people you meet at a given networking event, set a goal to meet five people who have experience you would like to tap into. For example, if you are trying to expose your products to local grocery stores and food distributors try to meet people who are successful in product distribution. If you are trying to grow your online business look for online marketers, consultants or e-commerce experts. This doesn’t mean creating an exclusive group of people to network with, but it does mean considering the focus around your networking efforts so you know which events to attend. It also means being able to react quickly when you meet someone who has the potential to be an amazing contact. Knowing what you need is the first step to success.
Think Differently: Networking is the sum of all the activities completed to help support your goal.
Unfortunately networking is not like a recipe — you can’t do it the same way every time. However, neither can you approach it with a ‘let’s see how it goes’ attitude. This means you need a framework that consists of common steps to identify, build, nurture and ultimately leverage relationships and partnerships. Keep in mind that it’s best to approach networking as the sum of many smaller efforts. To provide a sense of what such a framework looks like, here’s a real-life example:
- Do your research on potential contacts and connect with them on social networks like LinkedIn (pre- and post-events)
- Participate in forums, groups and local meetups for the target area
- Make a nurturing plan that will help you organize the contacts you make, determine how you will keep in touch with them (how often, what tools you will use, how to connect, etc)
- Ask at least one person for help each month, and offer to help at least one person each month. This will make you better at asking for help, and give you insight into the give-and-take of relationships.
Analyze Your Network Differently: Know the difference between people who can help you, people who are friends, and people who you simply know.
Not everyone you meet has the potential to be your business BFF. As you become an entrepreneur, you have to learn the art of objectively determining synergies when meeting a new contact or reconnecting with colleagues. This is especially important for vegan business owners. Your circle of friends may be 80% vegan, but your business circle probably needs more diversity. You might find an interest outside of your vegan passion that will help you meet the right people at the right time, and you should be prepared to leverage that. Business partnerships don’t have to be life-long bonds – they mostly aren’t. By the same token your closest personal buddies may not be the right people to advise you when you need objective advice. Here’s a quick checklist that can help you put your relationships into perspective. Take note of:
- How you met
- What you have in common — experiences, interests, family situations, business challenges
- How you can help them
- How they can help you
- Networking status: friend, acquaintance, previous partner, getting to know, etc
When you approach networking as a cohesive strategy that links with your larger business goals you will be surprised at how much more effective it becomes. Think of networking differently and it will make decisions about where and how to spend your networking time crystal clear as you brave the vegan business world.
Think about whether you need to plan differently, think differently, or analyze differently, and take an appropriate step to do so. For example, if you choose plan, before you attend your next networking event (or an event where networking is one of the objectives), spend a few minutes beforehand thinking about — and writing down — what your networking goals for that meeting/event are. If you choose analyze, the next time you go to a networking event/meeting, use the list provided above to analyze the contacts that you connected with, and see if that clarifies how you move forward with those new relationships.