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How to develop your strategic networking game plan

First things first, what is a strategic network? The clue is in the title: It is the development and maintenance of mutually valuable relationships. This type of networking does require planning and effort as opposed to ‘getting out there’, dealing your business card deck and hoping for a few leads.

To illustrate the difference in approach, we are borrowing a great analogy, which we believe sum this up perfectly. You want to lay a new garden lawn. You research best times of year for sowing, key timings, the most suitable seeds, how to water and fertilise the area for the best result.

Then the work begins, the earth tilled, seeds sown, fertiliser spread, the ground watered, close monitoring and selective weeding. Another approach is to pick up a bag of random grass seeds, throw them into the back garden and what to see what happens.

Stating the obvious, the second approach is probably going to lead to much more disappointing results. But this is the way that a lot of us go about building strategic networks.

Networking requires having a game plan and helping other people. Its goal is to build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships.

How to build and nurture your strategic network:

  • Plan ahead – building a network and keeping that network alive and healthy is so important and often overlooked until there is an urgent need

  • Dig your well before you’re thirsty – Harvey Mackay: before you need them, help others get what they want first

  • Choose your events wisely – be open to diverse and mixed events

  • Get to the event on time

  • Take and receive business cards

  • Have a great handshake and genuine smile

  • Have your elevator pitch ready

  • Be up to date on current affairs – ‘Small talk is the biggest thing that we do’ Debra Fine

  • Listen – people love talking about themselves. Ask yourself, what can I offer this person and then offer an appropriate product, service, solution or connect them with someone else who can

  • Have confidence to close conversations with a positive outcome – pass on your business card and agree to follow up to explore mutual interest

  • Maximise your own and the company’s visibility – with people you already know, acknowledge and agree to meet another time

  • Save longer conversations for another time

  • Avoid the temptation of staying with colleagues the entire time – what’s the point, you can chat in the office!

After an event

  • Log contacts, note key information on back of the business cards you receive. Connect with them on LinkedIn

  • Follow up within 24 hours

  • Deliver on promises you have made

  • In appropriate cases, send a thank you note – handwritten where appropriate, share links to articles that might be of interest.

Nurturing your network

You will have created a network of ‘outposts’. These will be people with whom you connect only occasionally – 1x month, 2 or 3 times a year, perhaps over email, a coffee, an invitation to a suitable event, a link to an interesting article.

Remember networks need mutual interest.

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