Effective Networking Begins With a Strategy

by Frank L. Williams

Many of my friends consider me to be a prolific networker. While I do feel I’ve developed a strong network of professional relationships over the years, it was not always so.

When I was in my late 20s, I was hired for a sales job because the sales manager – who is a great guy that I’m still connected with to this day – thought I was a great networker. He and I met in the elevator at a networking event in downtown Raleigh. Later, I proudly showed him a large, three-ring binder full of business cards that I had collected at networking events. He was impressed, and it wasn’t long before I was on his team.

Here’s the problem: that notebook full of business cards looked impressive, and my network looked good on paper, but I was doing it wrong. I quickly learned that many, if not most, of the people whose cards were in that notebook didn’t remember me or know me well enough to put their professional trust in me. Further, I also learned that the vast majority of people in my network were not in the target market for my new job. I was selling insurance and financial services products, and most of the people in my network were 20-somethings who were not interested.

That was in the late 1990s. Fast-forward to 2022, and the public relations firm I founded in 2001 is now more than 20 years old. When I look back at Pioneer Strategies’ history, the vast majority of our clients have been generated through networking activities of one form or another. People often turn to me as a resource when they are trying to connect with someone. If I need a product or service, I can generally find it within my network.

I’m a firm believer in the power of networking. I also strongly believe that networking must be strategic in order to be effective.

I’ve heard networking “experts” talk about how to work a room. Experience has taught me it doesn’t matter how well you work a room if you’re in the wrong room.

The following are several principles for developing a strategic approach to networking:

  • Know who you need to reach, and go where they are
  • Focus on the relationship, not the sale
  • Relationships aren’t built overnight; it takes time and consistency
  • In order to gain value, you must add value
  • Get organized and have a plan
  • Be intentional about following up and keeping in touch
  • Be authentic
  • Take advantage of technology, but don’t underestimate the importance of personal contact
  • Be patient
  • Be persistent, but not annoying

Networking is not a magic pill that will instantly cure your sales woes. It is a long-term process devoted to developing strategic professional relationships that stand the test of time. If you want to build a strong network of business relationships, you would be well served to invest the time to outline a clear strategy that defines who you need to reach and how you will connect with them.

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Frank L. Williams

Frank is the founder and president of Pioneer Strategies.