Post by Liz Cullen, contributing Women On Business writer
The term “strategic networking” makes me cringe a little. I’m not sure if that’s because it is typical of corporate speak or because it calls to mind battle plans, power maps, and things that seem contrary to the whole idea of building relationships. Two instances this week reminded me, however, that networking only works if those contacts then become people you can build a productive relationship with or who can connect you to others that will become productive relationships.
Use it or lose it: The first reminder came from a woman business owner who called to tell me how important her certification was in keeping her business afloat at this time. What surprised me was that she hadn’t called before so that we could help publicize those successes. By promoting her success, our organization accomplishes several goals: providing her company free publicity among the corporations she is targeting, providing corporations an example of a qualified and successful business that can meet their needs, and finally, inspiring fellow women business owners that the program works. Networking and marketing can result in those crucial contracts but the marketing effort does not have to end there. Merely by reconnecting with the business organizations, fellow entrepreneurs, and clients that made that success possible can extend your marketing effort, and consequently deepen and solidify your network.
Quality not quantity: This led to my second reminder which is that the depth of your network is as important as, if not more important than, the breadth. In looking at the organizations we work with, a committee of our volunteers dedicated to building our network determined that we should be engaging more with the organizations we had current relationships with to promote our priority programs. Because of their success in building the network, their role could now shift to making the most out of the contacts we have. In this way, an organization can hone their messages to appeal to specific groups, identify ways to bring in new members or clients, and be creative.
Networking can be a very powerful business tool. It is important to form relationships, but also to work on them over time. Down the line, you never know who you may need to get in touch with, and keeping networking relationships active over time can help. Don’t worry about making too many contacts, but spend time to really develop the important ones you have.