Create an effective networking strategy

Group of people sat around a table discussing an effective networking strategy

Networking can help you generate new sales leads, deepen connections with existing contacts and learn useful information about your markets. So why do so many businesses do it in such an ad-hoc way? Heather White of Smarter Networking explains how strategic networking could give you an edge over the competition

We train thousands of businesses every year and we always ask our delegates, "Who has a networking strategy?" Most have some sort of marketing or business plan, but less than 20% have a networking strategy.

Yet ask them how much of their business comes from referrals, word-of-mouth recommendation and direct networking and you will find that typically more than 80% of their business comes from these sources.

So, if you don't have a large marketing budget and much of your business comes from these sources, you need a networking strategy.

Follow the four steps below to develop a practical networking strategy that will work for your business.

Step 1: Identify why you want to network

To create a successful networking strategy, you need to be clear about why you want to network in the first place. Use the questions below as a guideline to create a list of priorities and put them in order of importance. Networking can be used to:

  • find new business, contacts or introducers;
  • retain and build on existing relationships;
  • benefit from support, such as a trade body, or to find a sponsor or mentor;
  • improve your career prospects - for example, to find another job within your company or another company;
  • position yourself as an expert within your market;
  • set up a team of experts;
  • increase knowledge of your market, your industry or the factors that influence your customers' buying decisions;
  • strengthen relationships with colleagues and motivate your team.

When considering why you want to network, it's important to establish how much of your networking time and effort you should devote to your different goals. For example, how much of you networking should:

  • focus on finding new contacts, and how much should be spent building relationships with existing contacts;
  • be spent developing internal relationships (colleagues and employees), and how much you should give to external ones (clients and contacts).

You also need to decide how urgent each of your networking goals are.

Reason to network Internal/external focus Urgency rating
1=low, 10=high

Find new clients

100% external focus


Find people who can introduce you to influential contacts and customers ('introducers')

40/60 split between internal and internal


Increase my profile

30/70 split between internal and external


Learn about my market

20/80 split between internal and external


Step 2: Work out how many contacts you need

Every successful person I know has a contact base of people they have known for years. Some they do business with, others are specialists, many are friends and introducers. Whenever you meet an interesting person, it's worth seeing them as a potential contact for life.

Some relationships, however, will have a necessarily short span - it may be that they are specific stepping stones towards your medium- and long-term goals. Estimate the number of contacts you will need to achieve your networking goals.

For example:

Reason to network Contacts/activities - numbers

Find new clients

Have 15 main clients; ask them for referrals and introductions

Already know 10 potential clients; develop better relationships

Find 'introducers'

Already know 3 introducers; ask them for referrals

Need to increase introducers to 6

Increase my profile

Join 2 key membership organisations to meet clients and introducers (5 in each initially)

Connect with sales staff within organisation (approx 3 key people)

Learn about my market

Ask 7 key clients for feedback on my offer

Speak to 3 existing suppliers, 3 potential suppliers about new products, refinements to existing products

Research 4 competitors; find out about pricing, marketing strategies, customer base

Approximately 64 contacts needed to achieve my goals

Step 3: Identify the people you need to network with

It would be fair to say that a typical small-business owner/manager would need a network of 60-100 people to achieve their networking goals. It's critical that you find the right contacts; if you happen to like them too, that's a bonus.

There might be several steps involved in tracking down the best contacts for you.

  • Do you know the names of the people you need to develop better relationships with? If you haven't already met them, can you arrange to meet them?
  • If you don't know the people you need to know by name, do you know their job titles? For example, Head of Operations or Sales Director.
  • If you want to meet people who can introduce you to their contacts, make a list of those you already know. Who makes the best introducer for you? Classic introducers include accountants, bank managers, non-executive directors, and so on.
  • List the types of business you want to meet or specific company names.
  • List the membership organizations you should join.

Step 4: Review your networking plan and take action

Take another look at your networking plan and think about:

  • Your reasons to network. Are they still valid?
  • Your priority areas. Will these get you to your goals quickly?
  • Whether you have a reasonable split between internal and external networking.
  • Whether you have a reasonable split between developing existing contacts and finding new contacts.
  • A deadline for achieving each of your networking goals.

You are now ready to network!

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