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Network to Grow Your Business

By Mark Wardell @MarkWardell |

Whether you're looking to grow your business, connect with your target market more effectively or increase your brand awareness, networking will help get you there - if you go about it in the right way

Like every catchphrase, the word "networking" comes with its own set of misconceptions. For many, networking brings to mind images of overly aggressive salespeople schmoozing hard at every event in town.

In fact, networking is nothing more than relationship-building. As such, it is a very effective business-building tool. The key, however, is to proceed strategically. Think quality, not quantity. Your objective isn't to connect with everyone out there. Instead, it should be to connect with businesses whose value propositions align and complement yours.

At our company, we refer to our networks as Centres of Influence (COIs). I like this term because it describes the sole purpose of networking-to bring together groups of individuals or businesses that have the capacity to positively influence one another in a way that benefits all involved.

Developing a COI approach has brought us many clients, resources and important introductions. For example, when I first started my firm, I joined a small networking group of professionals who met weekly for breakfast. Values aligned, relationships developed and business knowledge was exchanged. In fact, one of the members soon became a client and this particular relationship spawned a further series of referrals that has since generated a great deal of business over the years - all from networking and relationship-building.

If you're seeking to raise your profile and grow your business, you'll achieve your goals more quickly by strategically developing your own COIs. Here's how to start:

Begin by brainstorming a list of businesses or individuals in your community who are able to refer you business, enhance your image or share resources.

Now streamline that list and identify which businesses (or individuals) you can bring the most value to. That's right. Networking is not all about "getting" - in fact, it's quite the opposite. The Golden Rule here is to first find out how you can provide value to new contacts. This might be through referrals, sharing resources or providing an introduction, for instance. Delivering value is the best incentive you can offer your targeted COI to initiate or further develop a relationship with you. The result is that you will be top of mind when their clients require your products, services or expertise as a business leader.

Like any relationship, if it is to be successful there needs to be chemistry. So pursue relationships from your target list and focus on the ones with whom you have a natural connection, mutual trust and a shared target market.

As your COI relationships evolve, remember to introduce individuals to one another whenever it is mutually beneficial. For example, you might introduce a graphic designer to a programmer or a banker to an accountant. It's a triple-win for everyone, especially for you if you're seen as the "connector."

Networking isn't complicated, but it does require some strategy to be effective. By conscientiously developing your own COIs, you're much more likely to be the first in mind when people are shopping for the products or services you offer.

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