You may be thinking: “A success network? What are you talking about, Pam?”
A success network is a service universities provide to help students succeed at school. The success network links a student to faculty, advisers, and other resources to help the student achieve his goals at college. If a success network is so effective in a scholastic realm, why shouldn’t we use one in our business and personal life?
I also use the term “success network” because it sounds a lot friendlier than the dreaded “networking.”
I know getting good at networking—or building your success network—is a skill that will help you
- build your circle of influence
- create a support system for when you need to find a new job
- demonstrate you know the value of building relationships
Learn from my experience and follow my strategy.
Pam’s story of a success network
I started my business in January 1997 and claimed rightfully that I was a subject matter expert on communications—the people side, not the IT side.
Everyone has communication problems, right? So it was obvious that I would be fully booked helping people solve their communications problems, right? The money would come rolling in–not so.
When your area of expertise is communications, you can spend a gazillion dollars trying to market your services. It is frustrating, ineffective, mind-boggling, and expensive.
After a few years of teaching business writing courses for corporate America, I decided I wanted to pick a niche where I could promote my expertise in communications. My goal was to narrow my focus, so I could build a targeted marketing strategy.
First, I researched three professional niches: accounting, engineering, and another field I don’t remember. I looked at the hot topics for each of those fields by learning from associations that serve them. All three vertical niches had problems with communication.
I took a closer look at each of the niches. Accountants have problems with communications. I knew this because I had worked with accountants for eight years. However, accountants are very reluctant to part with their money, which means they aren’t a good client for a consultant.
Engineers are smart people who want to get smarter. They are used to working with consultants and paying for the service. They also have a unique sense of humor, and humor is very important to me.
I’d already thrown out the third group so it was down to deciding between working with accountants or working with engineers. I spoke to a CPA group and submitted proposals to work on communications with a couple of firms. Those experiences were okay, but they didn’t represent the kind of work experience I wanted on a regular basis.
I’d also already done a workshop or two with an engineering firm and really enjoyed it. The engineering firm was owned by of a friend of mine. I asked him, “Where can I find more people like you who own engineering firms?”
He invited me to a luncheon of an association that served the owners and managers of engineering firms. It was a natural fit for me.
I jumped in with both feet and got to know the association and the members. I was a volunteer on a couple of committees, presented one-day workshops, and spoke at summer conferences.
My decision to niche my business was the best decision I have ever made as a business owner. I could put all my energy into building my success network with decision-makers in engineering firms. For 15 years, almost all my clients came through my involvement with that association.
My lessons learned for you:
- Thoroughly research 3 target markets then pick one for strategic focus.
- Join an association serving that niche and one where your target decision-makers are involved.
- Share valuable content about your expertise through workshops and conferences.
- Build a rich and deep success network that can provide you with six-figure earnings for several years.
Why build a success network
What is your purpose in creating a network?
a. You are unemployed and looking for a job.
b. You want to get a different job in the same field, so you need to know others who do what you do.
c. You need to know people who can introduce you to influencers in your field.
d. You need to build relationships with clients and potential clients for your current job–it’s business development.
e. You want to learn more about your field or related fields.
e. You want to broaden your social network and meet more people.
f. You want/need to broaden your network within the company you work for. That’s your internal network.
Bad reasons for creating a network
a. You need someone to hire you today. Building your network takes time. Do not expect someone to offer you a job at a networking event.
b. You’re looking for someone to marry. Networking is a business practice. You may meet someone special, but the online dating services offer a more direct route to that person.
c. You want to sell your product or service to someone today. Networking is about building relationships. You will risk your reputation if you try to hard sell someone you’ve just met.
You have to figure out what you want to achieve so you can lay out a plan to reach those goals. I’ve written a lot about goals lately on this blog, so you have the basic outline on how to set smart goals.
Plan your strategy
The problem most people face when they set out to build a success network is that they just show up somewhere and wonder later why they feel it was a waste of time. It is a waste of time if you don’t have goals and a strategy to meet those goals.
Questions you should ask yourself when setting a strategy
1. Who do you need to build relationships with to meet your goals? If you are creating a success network to build contacts for your current job, you may be looking for people that your company can partner with to serve clients. For example, someone from a civil engineering firm may want to meet people from a structural engineering firm so that they can team up to go after a project.
If you’re looking for people who can help you transition into a new job at your company, you want to grow your internal network. Those folks will know about other career paths or positions likely to come open soon in your company. Look for chances to serve on committees or teams that cut across the divisions or silos in your company.
If you’re looking for a new job in another company, you want to build relationships with people in your field. For example, if you work in a marketing position, you could go to the American Marketing Association meetings to expand your knowledge and connect with others in your field. Many associations also have jobs listed on their websites.
2. What does your target market want? What are their pain points? How well do you know your target market, meaning the people that you want to have in your success network? Where do you go to learn about them and what they need?
I start with the professional associations that support my target market. You may find two to five associations that support your target market. Go through each association’s website thoroughly, paying particular attention to the content of publications, the topic selection for conferences, the topics of webinars and learning opportunities, and any research the association posts on its site.
3. Interview folks in your target market. I recently did a webinar for an industry that might need my services. First, I went to the association sites and learned there. Then I looked for articles about hot topics for the industry. I was also able to get a list of webinar registrants and called them to learn of their challenges as I was preparing the webinar. They helped me understand their industry better and gave me insights into challenges they were facing that I could address in the webinar.
If you don’t have access to the registrants list, reach out to officers in the related associations. Interview them and you’ll find they are happy to talk about their industry and challenges. Who knows? You might even get an invite to speak at a chapter meeting or to write for their newsletter. Those are both great techniques for building your success network.
Now, get things done
At this point, you have the makings of a strategic plan to build your success network. Now it’s time to stop planning and implement the plan.
You know who your targets are and what their pain points are. Do you know how to explain to them what you do and how it will help them? Welcome to marketing.
1. Where do your prospects go? What associations are they members of? Hopefully you already know this because you did the research in planning your strategy.
Are you going to those meetings? Can you get a list of registered attendees before the meeting or at the meeting itself? Many associations provide the registration list because they know folks are there to network.
2. Who do you want to meet? Who could you ask to introduce you to the person you want to meet? I’ve attended association meetings where I knew very few people. My tactic in that situation is to find the association president or other officer (often wearing badges that say that), introduce myself, explain that I’m a first-time attendee or new member. I ask them who I should meet so I can “learn more about their world.” Usually that officer is happy to introduce me to so and so.
Sounds a little brash, don’t you think? But it works. Association leaders are there to ensure their event succeeds and that members are happy. The association also wants to attract new members. Very few people truly enjoy networking events, so people welcome an opportunity to do something rather than stand around feeling stupid.
In the engineering association I mentioned, certain folks were designated ambassadors for the meeting. We had a ribbon on our name tag that said “ambassador.” As an ambassador, I could seek out guests or new members, greet them, learn about them, discover who they wanted to meet, and make the introductions. Some of those guests became clients of mine later on.
3. How to explain what you do? I absolutely detest the canned elevator speech that you are told you must create and deliver. I met a guy at a networking event, and he spouted his company’s elevator speech as if he were reciting the Gettysburg Address in 6th grade. It made me want to barf.
When people ask me what I do, I often give them an example. Examples—stories—are easy to understand.
For example, I was at an association membership luncheon, sitting next to a CEO I knew and had talked with on several occasions. Burt said, “Pam, I know you work with engineers, but I don’t know what you do. How do you help them?”
Rather than stumble through some canned speech, I said, “Let me share how I worked with a client this morning.” I then told him how I had helped a CEO focus on his customer base.
The CEO and I analyzed his customer base and labeled each as A, B, or C. Our criteria was
- A-level customers respected the company’s professionals, paid on time, did repeat business, and introduced his firm to others who might need his help.
- B-level customers did repeat business, paid on time, and sometimes made introductions.
- C-level customers always paid late, didn’t respect the professional staff, and generated lower profit margins.
Then the CEO and I decided which clients to keep and which ones to fire. Hint: Fire the C-level clients.
Burt pulled out his business card, handed it to me, and said, “Call me tomorrow. I’ve got a coaching client for you.”
I called the next day, met the prospective coaching client, and was hired by Burt to groom that employee to be an executive. That coaching relationship went on for 3 years—all because of a 5-minute story told over lunch at an association meeting.
Don’t you want results like that?
More on success networking
Over the next few weeks I’ll continue the discussion on how to build your success network. I’ll cover
- how to talk to someone you don’t know
- graceful exit lines
- how to navigate a table for eight
- how to follow up after an event
- and so much more
Please share your concerns and experiences in the comment box below. Or email them to me at pam@MentorLoft.com.
Until then, here are some good links for more on success networks.
I like the advice this young woman gives in this piece from Forbes.
Are you looking for a job? Remember: You are no one’s top priority.
5 ways to build your own success network
© Pamela A. Scott, MentorLoft.com 2017