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How to network effectively

Many business owners find that all they seem to do when networking is spend time having conversations which don’t lead anywhere. In this article networking expert Heather Townsend shares her FITTER™ model to network effectively

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Many business owners find that all they seem to do when networking is spend time having conversations, which whilst enjoyable at the time, don't seem to lead anywhere. In this article, Heather Townsend, the author of The Financial Times Guide to Business Networking, shares her FITTER™ networking model – which if you follow will guarantee you network effectively regardless of who you meet, or where you meet them. I've lost count of the amount of times people have told me that they get very little return on their often substantial investment of time and money in networking. Very often these people go networking without a purpose and trust that serendipity will bring them into conversation with the right people. But networking without purpose, focus or results ends up being a massive waste of time and money. This is the very reason I devised The FITTER™ model, which will enable you to network efficiently and effectively anywhere, anytime and with anyone. FITTER™ stands for: Follow up After meeting new people, decide on how important they are to you. I tend to use a very simple classification system, where I class people within my network as an A, B or C-lister. If they are likely to be able to help me meet my business goals in the short and medium-term, I class them as an A-lister. A C-lister is someone I don't gel with or who is unlikely to be able to help me achieve my goals in the long-term. Anyone I am not sure about gets classed as a B-lister. Regardless of where someone fits in my classification system, I always send them a note after meeting them and connect with them on social networking sites. If they fall into the A or B category, I will ask for a follow up phone or in person meeting. If I sense that they are an A-lister I will normally have requested permission for a follow up conversation when I first speak to them. Introduce yourself with impact A good first impression enables you to start and build a mutually beneficial relationship. Most people, when they think about first impressions, automatically think about meeting someone face-to-face. However, these days they are just as likely to meet you online. Before someone actually meets you, they will normally have already formed a first impression of you by looking at your online footprint. The first step in finding out more about you and your business will involve a Google search, and your LinkedIn profile is most likely to be in the top three results. So, what does your LinkedIn profile look like? A shortened version of your CV? Or an active profile showcasing your personal and business credibility? Target specific people Make sure you know who you want to meet and why you want to meet them. Before you even agree to an event, see who will already be attending. Are these the type of people your business needs you to meet? Give your networking some va-va-voom by seeing if you can arrange to meet people at an event, rather than hope you will. It makes it ten times easier to enter a room full of strangers if you have already agreed to meet someone. A great way of making your networking more efficient is NOT to go prospecting for clients. Go looking for advocates and referrers for your business. Someone who regularly recommends you and your business to their client's and customers is 100 times more valuable than one client or customer who may or may not recommend you to their friends. Turn social conversations into business chat: Before you start talking business, take your time to get to know the person first and generate some rapport. Once rapport has been established, then move the conversation onto business topics. Many people make the mistake of zooming straight into a sales pitch, but let me emphasise, when networking you are not there to sell, you are there to build relationships. It's from these relationships that opportunities and business will flow. Engage How do I put this nicely? The best way to generate a relationship is to forget about you and your needs. I am sure that you are an amazing and inspirational business owner, but you will have better quality (and ultimately more profitable) conversations if you focus 80% of your energy on listening and finding out about the other person. When you are networking online, try to include questions which encourage people to comment and join in the conversation. Research Your research will enable you to focus not only on the events worth attending, but the social networking sites, forums, groups and people who will be beneficial to you to meet and good topics to talk about. You wouldn't write your marketing plan without an element of research, so why not research properly your networking choices – both at the big decision level (should I use Twitter or join Business Networking?) and the small decision level (should I attend this event?) So next time you think about going out network, make sure that you give yourself an effective work out by putting the FITTER model through its paces. About the author Heather Townsend is the author of The Financial Times Guide to Business Networking. You can find more resources for networkers on her website Joined Up Networking.