Your ability to network within your industry will be a factor in the success of your business. A strong professional network will afford you with business opportunities and insights that will help your company grow.
Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Dale Carnegie was selling the same message in his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” almost a century ago. In this article, I’ll share a practical framework that you can apply to grow your network.
What is Professional Networking & Why LinkedIn?
Professional networking means building relationships to grow your business or advance in your career. It is likely to include people within your industry and in other sectors. Networking can take place both face-to-face and online and can be formal or informal. A good professional relationship is mutually beneficial.
If you are in the B2B space, one of the best resources for growing your online network is LinkedIn. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile yet, it’s time to create one. LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network. According to Omnicore Agency, 90 million LinkedIn users are senior-level influencers, and a further 63 million are in decision-making positions. Therefore the targets you want to reach can most likely be found there.
LinkedIn also has the highest organic reach of any of the major social media channels. This means more eyes on your posts and more potential connections.
As with personal relationships, business connections need to be maintained and nurtured. Read on to learn how to use LinkedIn to network like a pro.
Define Your Goals
You cannot meet your goals without knowing what they are. Setting goals gives you something to strive for and allows you to organize your time and resources more effectively. Take a few minutes to write a networking purpose statement. Define what you want to achieve and the steps you need to take to get there.
Your networking purpose statement could be, “I want to grow my client base by 20% this year through networking and referrals.”
From that statement, you need to break down how to achieve that overarching goal. There are three primary elements to this equation:
- The size of your network
- How many people you pitch your services to
- How you approach the pitch
Two out of the three points we covered are quantifiable. For example, below are some manageable targets you could achieve that would put you on the road to achieving that target:
- Add 30 new connections to your network every day. You could do 15 on your commute o the office, and 15 on the way back from the office or in front of the TV
- Pitch your services to at least 2 LinkedIn connections per week
- Have a sales call with one lead generated from LinkedIn a month
The most important element of those three targets is the third part. Depending on how good you are at closing clients, one meeting a month, so 12 a year, would be enough to make you hit that 20% target. What you will need to do through experimentation is to discover the numbers you need to hit to land that one sales call a month.
We’ll look at how to grow your audience on LinkedIn within the next section.
2. Make First Contact
Networking is all about people. Therefore, reach out to individual people and not generic company email addresses or “contact us” forms. Take some time to define who to target. I recommend you start this process by creating a customer persona.
A customer persona is a general description of the person you are targeting. The customer persona will include information like the type of company you are targeting, financial information pertaining to revenue, and the position the target person in the company holds.
You can then use this information to create a list of companies that fit your customer persona.
LinkedIn makes it easy to find people based on where they work and their role within a company. All you need to do is search for a company on your list through LinkedIn.
Then, click on People and search for the relevant person in the company by their job title.
Unlike other social media channels, many people will accept a connection request on LinkedIn without any prior contact. So feel free to send one. It doesn’t need to be personalized. If you choose to include a short message with your connection request, it might be something like this:
I’m new to my role at [Company] and trying to get to know people in the industry. I’d love to connect and learn more about [something specific they’ve worked on].
All the best
Keep it short and sweet.
If your target accepts your request, you can start building a connection by occasionally liking or commenting on their posts. Posting engaging content to your page will also keep your name in their feed. If they respond to your initial message, you’ve got an ideal opening to start a conversation.
Remember, connecting on LinkedIn is like asking for a date. If someone rejects your request, don’t take it personally.
3. Follow Up With an Email
Once you have a connection, and they have been connected for a month or more, it’s time to make your move. Send an outreach email. Here’s an example of an opening email you might send to a networking target in your industry. Feel free to adapt it to your requirements.
Subject line: [TOPIC] I thought you might find this interesting
Hope you’re having a great day!
My name is [YOUR NAME], and we connected on LinkedIn more than a month ago. I have a feeling part of your job involves [WHAT YOUR ARE SELLING]. We created a report that I thought would interest you about [TOPIC]. I’d be interested to get your input about [AREA OF EXPERTISE] regarding the report.
I look forward to hearing from you,
[Email signature with CTA]
The report you send out should be related to your industry and show your expertise in your area of business. This is important because it’s their first impression of your business. If you create an insightful report, people will respond.
If you’re sending out lots of emails, use an email tracker to monitor the replies you get. If you don’t get a response from the person, be patient. They are probably very busy. If you haven’t heard anything in a couple of weeks, you can send a polite follow-up or try a different channel.
4. Keep In Touch
Your aim from this strategy is to create a professional connection that could result in a sale. If you can secure a meeting, you will discover if you get along with the person. You want to develop these relationships because they could be a source of future leads.
A strong professional network requires maintenance. Precisely how you nurture a professional relationship will depend on the person and the nature of the connection. Commenting on LinkedIn posts, checking in by email, sending them an article or paper you think they’d find interesting or sending them an e-card on their birthday are all great ways to keep the relationship alive.
If someone in your network asks for your help, be generous with your time and expertise. The more you give, the more you’ll get. When the time comes that you need to ask for a favor, your contact will remember your help and gladly oblige.
Networking Towards Success
Some people love networking, while others view it as a necessary evil or even avoid it entirely. But whichever camp you’re in, networking is critical to achieving your business goals. Building a successful business is about building strong relationships. That’s why the most successful entrepreneurs are not only good at managing their businesses but also have excellent interpersonal skills and make time to nurture their networks.
If you haven’t started building your professional network yet, it’s not too late to start. Remember my top tips:
- Define your networking intentions. Create a mission statement and 3 – 5 SMART goals.
- Identify your targets and any strategic contacts.
- Take advantage of email by writing friendly, personalized introductory messages.
- Maintain an active profile on LinkedIn and connect with your targets on the platform.
- Take the time to nurture relationships by keeping in touch and helping your contacts when you can.
Networking gets easier with practice. Follow these steps and read up on other tips and tricks for successful networking, and you’ll soon reap the rewards for your business.