Effective networking

effective networking

Effective networking is all about who you know, not how many people you know. Understanding the ways to build a strong network could have a lasting impact on the state of your business. By John Burfitt

Effective networking is one of the fundamentals of staying connected to clients and business partners, but the message in the age of social media and corporate conferencing has become confused—and just a little chaotic.

The networking chase has seen the process become something of a numbers game, where it appears the person with the biggest number of online Facebook ‘friends’ and the most business cards at the end of the networking event wins the race.

And that’s where we’re going wrong, according to Sydney-based Fortune 500 mentor Janine Garner. In her book It’s Who You Know, she explains effective networking for the small business operator needs to be more about the quality of the people in your network, rather than the quantity.

“These days, as much as we’re all connected through various social media and communication channels, I believe we’re more disconnected than ever,” she says.

“The way many people approach networking has become so over-complicated in terms of what to do, how to do it, where to do it and what to focus on. At the mere mention of the word ‘networking’, I sometimes see the smile drain from clients’ faces. It’s exhausting.”

A clearer approach to networking needs to be adopted, she says, beginning with identifying who are the people the business needs in the wider network, why they’re needed and, importantly, where they can be found.

“Having 10,000 ‘likes’ and a whole lot of ‘friends’ on your Facebook page is worth nothing if the reality in your practice is you have a half empty appointment book and clients who are not returning,” she says.

“The way many people approach networking has become so over-complicated in terms of what to do, how to do it, where to do it and what to focus on. At the mere mention of the word ‘networking’, I sometimes see the smile drain from clients’ faces. It’s exhausting.”—Janine Garner, author, It’s Who You Know

This is when a tough review of how you deal with networking might be in order. “You might have to decide whether you’ve approached networking as a way to build real, authentic connections, or if you’ve just been out there collecting names and addresses on business cards for your database, with little idea of who these people are you have supposedly connected with,” she says.

In her book, Garner outlines the 12 key people needed in every successful business relationship and the ways that when they are put in place and worked with, this can lead to success.

Among the 12 characters in her framework are, ‘the Connector—the person who has the ability to open doors and make connections’; ‘the Influencer—who has achieved the level of success you want and can enrich your learning with their own insights’; ‘the Architect—the methodical person who is an expert at visualising plans and advises on how to achieve them’; and ‘the Explorer, who challenges the norms and gets excited about previously unknown options’.

“This approach is making sure you have the right people around you, as building a network for real growth hinges on connecting and collaborating with the right people and openly sharing knowledge and insights,” Garner explains.

“Having your personal advisory board, intelligence bank and marketing machine in place will help shape your approach and guide you towards the decisions you need to make to move forward.”

Carolyn S. Dean of My Dental Marketing consultancy is the author of the book, Fully Booked – Dental marketing secrets for a full appointment book. She explains it’s an essential for a dental practitioner to be authentic in the way they network, adding there’s an important need for dentists to network with not only each other but other health professionals as well.

“The people who run into a dental conference or networking event, thrust a business card into your hand while looking over your shoulder for the next person, are not networking,” she says. “Networking is about forming authentic relationships where you have a connection and want to do business with that person again.

“A good networker is someone who at that event has a good conversation that will lead to coffee chats at a future time. Then they see about how they both can work together in the future, and that kind of collaboration is what leads to business growth for both.”

“A good networker is someone who at that event has a good conversation that will lead to coffee chats at a future time. Then they see about how they both can work together in the future, and that kind of collaboration is what leads to business growth for both.”—Carolyn S. Dean, My Dental Marketing

Dean says a peer network of other health professionals that you can call on in times of change or challenge can prove to be the most valuable people in a network.

“Having a peer network who are also running their own practice means they are possibly experiencing the exact same things that are causing you concerns,” she says. “Some of the people I work with say that being able to have frank and honest conversations with people in their peer network makes the difference to how they deal with issues within the practice.”

As for establishing rules with networking on social media, Dean suggests practitioners need to be clear in the different ways they use platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn when expanding a network.

“The world of social media is confusing, and the value of it is even more confusing,” she says. “Just remember that LinkedIn is where you position yourself as a professional in your field, who is keen to engage with other professionals. That’s a good networking rule to follow when posting material.”

Facebook, however, should strike a different tone. “Your Facebook market is patients and how you network to them and present yourself needs to be at a different level to how you do that on LinkedIn,” she advises. “When you have material to share, just be clear who this matters to and what message it is you are trying to establish within that network.”

With 2018 not far off, Janine Garner says now is a perfect time to be setting goals for the coming 12 months—and including a health check on the current state of your network should be a priority.

“This is the time to be strategic and really clear on what your goals are—be they financial, growth, business and staffing goals,” she says. “Then look at what’s going on in your network to help you achieve that. Who are the people who have proven to be an important part of your network and then also look where the gaps are.

“Once you have identified that, then do something about it. Take action, so that at the end of next year, your business will be even stronger and your network will have played an important role in getting it there.”

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