As Principal of Verbal+Visual, I have a core responsibility to make sure that I am “out there”, constantly networking and putting the company in a position to develop new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Being in the business we’re in (a relationship business), it’s vital to constantly create, foster and maintain meaningful business relationships.
Here are some rules and examples I’ve followed, many of which have led to the success of Verbal+Visual. These tips are for you if you’ve done your basic homework of defining your target audience, your company is doing something unique or extremely well already, you’re looking to enhance your existing network.
Stay In Touch.
Staying in touch sounds simple enough, but it slips by the wayside for so many people, myself included at times. I’ve come up with a few rules that work well in ensuring that I’m maintaining relationships with the appropriate contacts.
- Add follow ups to your calendar, and definitely include reminders. We’re all busy, and without calendars and reminders we would all (or most of us at least) forget to follow up from time to time. Calendars are an amazing tool, make sure to use yours often in your networking endeavors.
- Make sure to set follow ups with potential clients who have mild interest every 4 weeks or so, and ones that are hot on the trail every 2 weeks. You don’t want to be pushy, but you do want to stay top of mind. I’ve found that this amount works best to accomplish both.
- Set aside some time every quarter to reach out to all your 1st level LinkedIn connections. On one hand, this is a major time suck, especially if you’ve got a lot of contacts (I have over 1,500!). However, doing this every quarter is one of the most valuable things you can do. Simply reaching out to everyone in your network to say a quick hi, see how they are doing, and try to set up a quick cup of coffee will significantly strengthen your network. If you feel like you can’t spare just one or two days to do all of them, do 10% of your contacts daily over 2 weeks. Lastly, don’t feel the need to reach out to everyone, definitely limit yourself to the ones you see the biggest mutual upside with.
We tend to throw one major networking event a year. A lot of people tell me that they can’t host a networking event because they don’t have the budget or can’t find the time to organize one, which I find to be nonsense. I probably spend about 8 total hours (over a few weeks) planning, organizing and putting together networking events, and usually I don’t spend more than $250 on the entire night. Not bad for some incredibly invaluable networking goodwill! Here’s what I do:
- Pick a venue that is befitting of the audience. If I’m organizing a networking event for fashion clients and potential fashion clients, I’ll pick something sleek and sophisticated in the garment district. If I want to do something for tech entrepreneurs, I’ll find a trendy bar in SoHo. You get the picture. Basically, know your audience.
- Partner with like-minded companies and people who aren’t competitors. This is an easy way to have a truly beneficial networking event, one where YOU get to meet new people too! If you can’t do that, then…
- Make a rule that people you invite can only attend if they bring someone outside of your network. That way it’s truly a networking event, instead of a social gathering amongst friends and clients who you already know.
- Don’t go all out for open bar if you can’t. This is the part where you don’t spend thousands of dollars if budget is a concern. If budget isn’t a concern, I’d love an invite to your next event, thank you very much! I typically make our networking events a cash bar (and note that on the invitation), but I spend a few hundred bucks buying rounds of drinks and starters. This makes people feel welcome, loosens up everyone, but doesn’t kill the budget for the event.
- Provide value! We’ve thrown an event in conjunction at the Bonobos in Flatiron where attendees received discounts on Bonobos gear. We made it primarily for tech industry professionals (Bonobos’ target audience), and also invited a lot of people in marketing (our target audience). The result was a mutually beneficial event, as we brought in a tech crowd for Bonobos, threw a great event for our network, and had an entirely new network of people to meet. You can also have a panel, have a few speakers, or have some giveaways that will benefit attendees. All are valuable, and you just need to be thinking of your target audience and be resourceful in order to provide the right fit for your guests that doesn’t break the budget.
Myself, Brad Young of Time and Caroline Molloy, VPV’s Project Manager at the Bonobos+VPV event in 2012. Photo credit: Lori Cannava
One method that I’ve found particularly useful to strengthen your network is through a contact trade. You and a strong contact of yours agree to introduce each other to an equal number of highly relevant and targeted contacts. This isn’t meant to be a barrage of introductions; rather, its meant to allow you to introduce 3-5 particularly relevant people to your contact and vice versa. Stick with the best and most relevant contacts to start, and if you have a lot of success with the first 3-5 contacts, then move onto more “toss-up” contacts. Offer to go through the other persons’ LinkedIn connections so that you can find the most appropriate people for your networking purposes.
I’ve done this with about 10 people so far, and have experienced a few really amazing success stories. In situations where there wasn’t an immediate result, many times the introduction led me down a path I didn’t anticipate, and eventually led to new prospects. Even in situations where nothing happened immediately, I developed a contact and a relationship that could help down the road.
Lastly, after an initial response, always connect on LinkedIn to make sure that everyone you come into contact with is in your network for the long haul. LinkedIn is definitely the best online tool out there to make and keep your network active.
Utilize Your Alumni Network.
Many people went to college (and some grad school), formed some nice friendships and then let it all go once they were out of school. I’m pretty much the opposite. Having gone to a Big Ten university (Penn State), there’s a certain pride which permeates everyone who attended in which they want to meet other graduates, and in some cases its given me a leg up to actually win business. I know this isn’t necessarily the case everywhere, however regardless of where you went, there’s a certain bond that is there with your fellow alumni. Tap into that network by doing searches on LinkedIn for professionals within your target audience, and filter them by those who went to your alma mater. This is a great way to develop a network, and if you’re even a mild supporter of your school (undergrad or grad, doesn’t matter), the networking opportunities here are limitless.
Help Your Contacts!
This one gets an exclamation point. Once you’ve actually started to develop a really strong network, you’ve got to have some sort of long term way to ensure the strength of that network. The best way to do that is to focus on the contacts that provide the most upside (and that you like the most, of course), and help them out! Go above and beyond to make things happen for those contacts. Don’t ask for anything in return, either. Your returns may not come today, tomorrow, next month or even next year, but they will come, and they will come in spades. Plus it just feels good to help someone out. So make sure to help everyone you feel strongly about, and keep doing it. Good things will happen in return.
This is the ultimate trump card. You can do everything I just mentioned above, but if you’re not genuine and you’re not yourself with people, you’ll go nowhere. The rare times I’ve let myself be consumed by “what someone can do for me”, the relationship has fizzled, the potential dissipated, and the hard work has gone down the tubes. If you’re not genuine, and you’re not yourself, people can see right through it. On the other hand, if you are yourself, people will be naturally drawn to you more, want to spend more time with you, and eventually want to work with you and grow their relationship with you. That’s when the best business relationships can become amazing friendships, which is one of the most gratifying parts of running a company: developing amazing relationships with everyone who you interact with, both internally and externally.
Hopefully these tips will help you out as you expand your networking efforts. They all take a lot of hard work (some more than others) but they are all fruitful and valuable as you strengthen and grow your network. They’ve helped me grow Verbal+Visual, make great friendships and, most importantly, help a lot of people along the way.