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You plan your day, you plan your workout routine, so why not also plan a better network?

Abraham Lincoln encapsulated it succinctly when he said

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Most people network by connecting with people that they happen to come into contact with online or at events. And that’s fine (it’s not actually, but I’ll say it is to be nice). Wouldn’t it be a better idea to find people who would benefit your network and offer value to not only you but to the others in your network as well? In the age of social media and online chat, it’s possible to find and connect with people on the other side of the world.

Who You Should Target?

Right off the bat, let’s get one thing straight; you shouldn’t be going for the richest, most influential people out there simply because they are rich and influential. Everyone is trying to get their attention and unless you have something really impressive to offer them – or you’re amazing at “situation engineering” – you can forget about them giving you any of their time or attention.

What is more, I hate to generalize, but many “A-listers” tend to seem arrogant, demanding and dismissive, personality traits that, in most cases, contributed to their success. So, unless you share their personality traits or have a penchant for abuse, it’s best to steer clear of them, especially initially.

My advice, being an “average” person, is to look for people who dwell on or near your own strata of the business success pecking order – although perhaps a rung or two above yours.

The people you need to be looking for should have the following qualities;

  1. They should be friendly.
  2. The should be interesting – they should have hobbies and know what is happening in the world. Ideally, they should have traveled and experienced life. Selecting a twenty-two-year-old computer gamer who has been hibernating in his parents’ basement for the last few years is most probably not a great choice, even if he is a master coder.
  3. They should be more successful than you. It’s always a good idea to “connect up”.
  4. They should be proactive – “doers” rather than just being “talkers”. People who post blog articles demonstrate that they are proactive, and if they have written a book or have one or more major achievements under their belt, so much the better.
  5. They should potentially be able to use what you have to offer; your knowledge, skill and experience.
  6. They should have a skill or knowledge that would be useful to you and to your network.
  7. They should have something in common with you – this gives you something to talk about. This commonality could be a hobby, interest or sport for example.
find people to network with

How Do You Find Prospects?

Finding proactive, helpful people online is not difficult. Monitor sites like Quora and LinkedIn and watch for people who post interesting and helpful content or comments there.

Start making a list of people that you think may fit your requirements and then take some time to take a look at their social media profiles, their blog (if they have one) and any other posts that they make. You want to start finding out as much as you can about them, especially the following;

  • Where their expertise lies.
  • Their experience and education.
  • What their interests are.
  • Where they work/live.
  • How they interact with others.

Take Your Time

Just as with networking, selecting prime candidates for your network takes time. Patience is crucial as the process cannot be rushed. Approaching a “prospect: prematurely who then turns out not to be a good fit for your network results in wasted time that could have been spent more productively.

Taking time will give you a better chance of getting a more complete picture of who the prospect is and what value they for your network. It also gives you the opportunity to find any glaring faults.

Make Your List

Write down the details you discover and try to build up a profile of each of your prospects. Your prospect profile should include the following details;

  • Name
  • Company name and address
  • Contact Details
  • Website/blog URLs
  • Social media profiles
  • Education/experience
  • Family
  • Interests
  • Affiliations/memberships
  • Achievements
  • Commonalities
  • Current challenges or projects they are engaged in
  • What they might offer your network
  • What you can offer them
  • Notes on how best to contact them

Start with a list of eight to ten candidates and start making a prospect profile for each.

Refine Your List

Refine your list over time as you select the prime candidates for your network. This will form your “short list” and shouldn’t contain more than two or three prospects at a time.

As you discard prospects that are not a good fit for your network, you can look around for new candidates.

Don’t immediately trash all of your discarded prospect profiles unless you find out something that would make working with the prospect difficult or impossible. Instead, sort them into those that are a waste of time and those with potential. Trash the former and file the latter. Then review the prospects with potential every now and then and see what they are doing on their blogs and social media. You never know, but you may discover that you overlooked a solid connection!

How Will They Benefit Your Network?

You must ask yourself how they will benefit your network if they become part of it. This may be a difficult question to answer and you may be tempted to overlook this consideration because the prospective connection is such a “nice person”. However, the main idea of building a relationship with a prospect is to introduce them to your network and in so doing adding value that will benefit your other network connections as much as you.

what do you have to offer your network connections

What Can You Offer Them?

As with any networking relationship, you must start by giving.

As part of your profile building activities, find current resources (links, articles and information) about their industry and interests and make a note of them.

From their profiles and posts, try to find out if they are having trouble with anything and, if you can, introduce them to someone who can help them. You can also look at sites like Quora, Yahoo! Answers and Reddit to see if they are asking questions on these sites as this may give you an insight into the challenges they are facing.

Track Them (Without Stalking Them)

Once you have your short list, monitor their social media activity for a week or two to see how active they are and what activity they are engaging in on the various platforms. Remember to monitor their blog and website for changes as well.

Some social media platforms will require that you request a formal connection from them to see their full profile (Facebook is one) but you may still be able to glean some information from limited access.

You should also enter their name into the search engines to see what comes up. This may expose various obscure online platforms on which they can be found. It may also turn up achievements and events they have attended. However, with many people having the same or similar names, make sure the information you harvest is applicable to your target.

Contact Time

When you have spent a month or two monitoring your shortlist candidates and you’re as sure as you can be that there are no lurking surprises, it’s time to contact them. To do this, you need to find an “in”, a way to contact them that is not spammy or full of blatant lies.

find a way to approach your networking prospect

Finding an “In”

So how do you introduce yourself to your prospect? As with many things, this is more art than science. A couple of key things to bear in mind;

  • Dare to be different or else you won’t get noticed.
  • Write for your audience – be formal if the person you are contacting is older or more conservative. Be whacky if they are younger or more “hip” or “edgy”.
  • Never ask for anything.
  • Keep it short.

Your initial message will be an introduction – that’s all. Don’t ask for a meeting now. If they reply, and you begin to correspond, you can set something up later. Now let’s take a look at how to introduce yourself in your first email or message to them.

Firstly, select a blog post or article they have written, one that resonates with you. If they really are a self-starter, they would have written a fair amount of material, so finding one should not be difficult. If they are more artistic, then you can select a piece of art or a video they have done.

You will use this article/post/image/video as the reason for getting in touch with them.

Formal Message

Subject line: From a fan, your “Article/Post/Image/Video Name” is fantastic

Body:  

Dear Bob,

”I recently read your article titled “Title” on your blog and found it to be riveting/fascinating/enchanting (choose one).

So many blog articles/images/videos (use applicable medium) leave me thinking “so what?” but your insights in this and other articles/images/videos have made an impression on me, one that has already changed the way I approach (the theme/subject of their post).

I have been following you on your blog and social media for a while now and wanted to take the opportunity to reach out to let you know that I am a fan.

I look forward to more thought-provoking content.

Have a fantastic day.

Kind regards

Your name“

Informal Message

Subject line:  Your article/post/image/video “Title” is Simply Amazing!

Body:

“Hello Bob,

I had the chance to read your articles “Title” and was blown away. Awesome job!

I have been following you for a while on social media and keeping an eye on your blog and I am really enjoying the content you are putting out.

I just wanted to reach out and tell you that you have a fan and I hope the great material keeps on coming.

Have a fantastic day.

All the best,

Your name”

Do this two or three times (once every few weeks), making sure to change the content and subject line every time and perhaps ask a question in the second and third emails, and see if they respond. If they do, it means that they are perhaps interested in taking it further and you can hit them up with something like the following;

“I believe that business success comes from the relationships we nurture through helping others and I would be more than happy to be of assistance if you have any challenges relating to my field of (insert your business category) or if you simply need advice from someone in my industry. There are no strings attached and I am not selling anything, I promise.

Also, I hope you don’t mind if I keep in touch with you every so often. You seem like the kind of person that shares many of my professional values and I am sure that staying in contact will lead to mutually beneficial opportunities in the future.”

Don’t Neglect Your Connections

Once you have been in contact with them a few times, try to find out if they are facing challenges that that other members of your network would be able to help them with. This provides value not only to your prospect but also makes your network far more interlinked and therefore stronger.

Or use the templates in this article as a foundation to simply introduce others in your network.

If you can connect your prospect with one or more of your network connections, do so and make introductions.

Make sure to follow up on how their interaction went and step in a facilitator if need be.

Meet Them

Although the initial interaction will take place online, you should try to meet them in person once they have become part of your network. By this time, you should have started to build a rapport with them and demonstrated that you are genuine and not trying to scam or manipulate them.

Try setting up a one-on-one meetup for coffee if you are in their area or find out if there are any events that both of you will be attending.

The latter is always best as most people are open to meeting new people at events. Typically, it’s part of the reason they are attending.

As your relationship matures, you can start inviting them to meetups with other network connections and business acquaintances as nothing builds relationships better than face-to-face interaction.

When Does a Prospect Become a Part of Your Network?

There is no formal answer to this question, but I would say that when they do you a favor in return for those you have done for them, they are officially inducted into your network.

The important thing to remember here is that you need to be the one who moves the relationship forward. You need to contact them periodically as they are in your network (a fact that they won’t realise until much later). The relationship, especially initially, will all be down to your ability to provide momentum – without rushing it.

You Don’t Need to Plan Every Connection

Although it’s possible to build a “perfect” business network by hand-picking every connection therein, I would suggest not going that far.

Let serendipity play its part in selecting at least some members of your network. These connections are often the source of amazing windfalls.

Conclusion

Research leads to success. Winging it can pay off … sometimes. But is it worth cutting corners and ending up with something sub-par?

Researching and planning your choice, A-grade network doesn’t cost any more than networking with the schlemiel you happen to run into at a sales conference. Sure, it takes more time and effort, but the payoff is magnitudes bigger.

You’re going to be investing a lot of time and effort into your business network, so wouldn’t you rather have it be first-class rather than coach?

download network prospect profile sheet

Bonus Free Download

We have created a downloadable network prospect profile sheet that you can copy and use to build up profiles of your networking prospects. Hopefully, it will be useful for you. Feel free to share it.