Think of the person you most want to network with – you know, your dream contact, the top of your list. What are the odds that you’re just going to get a phone call from him/her out of the blue? I’ll tell you what the odds are – zero. As in not going to happen, not by itself. If you want to get on a first name basis with those A-Listers you have your eye on, you have to have a networking plan that you can take specific action on week after week. Here’s how to do it.
Step One – Determine Where The Finish Line Is.
I could have taken the boring route and said “determine your objectives,” but I want you to think like it’s a race, for two reasons. First off, in a race, you have to keep running or you’re toast. With networking, you have to keep moving, or you’ll see the opportunities you’re building wither away as you lose top-of-mind status with people. You don’t want to do the same work twice, so remember that you’ll need to keep up the pace.
The other reason I want you to look at it as a race is because a race is exciting. You have an endpoint that you are constantly closing on, and constant progress is a hell of a lot more motivating than “Gee, I have this goal, you see …”
So let’s talk about the finish line. A finish line is a specific person or specific type of person that you’re looking to connect with (such as “A-List Blogger” or “CEO of Advertising Firm”). Let’s call this person your “target.” If you don’t have a specific person in mind, then do ten minutes of web searching to discover who the major players are in the target profile you’re aiming for.
Don’t be a sucker and skip this first step, saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll eventually meet the people I need to.” Think about that word “eventually.” Translation: “long, long time.” You don’t want that. Besides, you’d be kidding yourself anyway, because you’re not going to hit a target you haven’t established.
If you’re feeling hesitant about defining your target, because you’re feeling that these types of people are “out of your league,” take a deep breath. No one is out of your league. Reaching someone, no matter how high up, just takes concentrated action (maybe a lot of it, but it can be done). Don’t buy the lie that it can’t. Focus on moving forward and you’ll do so.
Bottom line: You need to define the target at your finish line so you can make sure all of your networking efforts carry you in the right direction.
Step Two: Search Out The Soft Spot
If you’ve read about the 5 critical networking skills already, you know that a key strategy is to find out what your target’s problems and needs are so that you can be the hero by connecting them with what they need.
Look at your target with fresh eyes. What are the unmet needs that separate them from their goals? What are the “soft spots”, or “hot buttons,” or whatever you want to call it that will make them sit up and take notice of whoever helps them find a solution? You want to know this because as you network your way towards the finish line, you’ll be able to keep your eyes out for people who have the resources to help solve your target’s problems.
Having these resources in your contact list can help you accelerate your progress because the closer you get to the target, the more attractive your list of connections becomes. If you’re only a few links (connections) away from the target, those links may also know about your target’s needs, and be very willing to help pave the way for you to meet your target (because that introduction will make them a hero to the target as well).
Bottom line: Know your target contact’s problems so that you can pick up connections along the way who can help solve them.
Step Three: Begin Charting Your Course
At this point, you know who you want to connect with, so it’s time to work backward from your goal. Whether it’s on paper or with your favorite piece of software, begin writing the names of people who might be in your target’s personal network. Web searches or sites like LinkedIn can be useful to kickstart this process, as they can help you read about people your target interacts with. Additionally, you can list organizations that your target is closely involved with. It may actually be easier to connect with the head of the organization than you think.
For any/all of those first level people/organizations, repeat the process. If it seems intimidating, don’t make it that way. Include just one or two people under each contact – as long as you start somewhere you’re on your way. The more levels you work your way down, the more likely you are to find someone who’s accessible to you in your current position.
Additionally, as you chart out this course you may find people you already have in your network, or in your network’s extended network. You may be surprised at what a small world it can be. Here’s where LinkedIn can come in handy as well – if you search for your target it can help you find the path to get to them.
Bottom Line: You want to work on building a chain of connections that will lead you to your target. Once you have that, you can start working yourself along the path.
That’s Enough To Go On, So Start Making It Happen
This is a fair bit of work, to be sure, but you’ll easily make that time up as you network faster and more easily than you’re doing it now. Naturally, the average person reading this won’t even put a single hour into building a networking plan, but I’m betting you’re one of the above-average readers. Schedule sometime as soon as possible (so it doesn’t become “someday”), and make it happen.