How to optimize your networking energy
Everywhere you go, people tell you the secret to packing your client list is networking. Schmooze like there’s no tomorrow, befriend everyone, hand out your cards, trade e-mails, IMs, IDs and CVs. Go to conferences, buy everyone within a 100-foot radius a beer (or non-alcoholic organic vegan hemp-nut smoothie).
For sure, the fastest way to grow your business is cultivating relationships. Problem is…there’s only one of you and infinite opportunities for you to spend time, energy and money connecting with a whole lot of people, only a few of whom will ever really throw any significant business your way. Which leaves us which a question. How do you choose who to be-friend?
Be-friend, don’t use.
Let’s get one fundamental premise behind us, before anyone jumps up and down about the bastardization of making friends. If you approach someone in a professional setting where it is crystal clear that both you and that person are interested, first and foremost, in a professional exchange, go for it. The nature of that connection is transparent. And the opportunity for the relationship to become predatory or abusive is substantially minimized. You’re both on equal footing.
But, if you approach someone under the guise of making a new friend, while your hidden agenda is really pure business exploitation with no genuine interest in the relationship or the person beyond what they can do for your bank account…that relationship will never end well.
Does that mean you should abandon the effort? No, but it does mean you should actively seek to find a more genuine, personal connection and, if you still can’t find one, then either be transparent about your motives or move on. Nobody likes to be used. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get back to our question.
How do you choose who to be-friend?
You have two big-picture options here. Go for the influencers or go for the individuals. Most people go for the individuals, the people who might become clients. Why, because they are the most accessible. And, a small-ish chunk of your time should be allocated to direct prospect networking.
But, getting back to our realization that there are a limited number of hours in each day, the bigger part of your time will be much better spent connecting not with potential clients, but with the gatekeepers and influencers.
Who are the gatekeepers and influencers?
The gatekeepers are people who have already spent months, years or decades of their own time, energy and money amassing relationships with large groups of people or companies that you would love to have as clients.
For example, if you were, say, a yoga instructor or personal trainer who specialized in stress-reduction, prime gatekeepers you’d want to befriend would include psychotherapists, doctors and massage-therapists and nutritionists. These are the people who have the ability to grow your business not client-by-client, but geometrically, by granting access to their customers, clients and patients.
The influencers are people who have the eyes and ears of large numbers of individuals who can be influenced by what that influencer says, writes or does. Magazine and newspaper editors, writers and producers would be examples.
Maximum bang for your networking buck.
I learned, early on, that befriending gatekeepers and influencers takes the same basic energy as befriending individual prospects, but the return on your investment is exponential, rather than incremental.
This is why I’ve spent a fair amount of time developing relationships with mainstream press over the years, and less and less time advertising to and networking directly with those who would become clients. Doing so has landed me and my companies in more than 50 national magazines and newspapers, TV and radio and helped launch and grow a number of business initiatives.
I am not saying to avoid direct client relationships. At some point, you need to get tight with your prospects to turn them into clients. What I am saying, though, is that there are only so many hours in the day. And it will very likely take the same 100 hours to befriend and land a client that it would take to befriend and land a gatekeeper or influencer who would likely lead to dozens or hundreds of clients over a period of years.
Simple fact—networking is a zero-sum game, so use your time optimally.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.