It is true that not everyone enjoys business networking, but the smart account manager understands that sometimes a little short-term pain can result in a lot of long-term gain. Networking can pay dividends for you personally, and for your agency.
There are many different ways to network. Some methods will yield a greater return on your time and effort investment (ROI) than others.
When we think of traditional networking we think of events designed to bring like-minded people together to make small-talk, swap business cards and hope for a dream business connection.
I met one woman, at a business networking evening, who was attempting to build her promotional products business by regularly attending similar events. She expressed disappointment that her networking efforts were absorbing a lot of her time, but were not particularly fruitful. Looking around the room, I asked the woman if this group was the right target market for her products. She replied that it probably wasn't, so I asked her why she was investing her time here? She had a lightbulb moment.
You'll need to ensure there is a logical and strong connection between your business objectives and the people you are networking with. It's super-important that these people are either within your target market, or can influence your target market. Otherwise, what is the point of networking at all?
Often a networking event can feel contrived, and each conversation loaded with a fairly obvious agenda. A more natural, and potentially more lucrative way of networking is to attend industry events. For advertising agency staff this could include awards evenings, design or marketing association events, interest and/or training events (social media, innovation, design, digital, media, etc).
Networking on these occasions is more about building relationships than going in for the sales-kill.
Still not thrilled about networking on your own? Why don't you convince your agency to sponsor an industry event? That way you have a valid reason for being there and you can ace your introductions with confidence: "Hi, I'm John. I work with Agency XYZ and we are one of the sponsors for this event. Where are you from?" Easy, huh?!
So you don't have a suitable industry or networking event in your area? Create one!
By using online services such as meetup.com you can pick exactly the type of people you'd like to network with (for example "Account Management Pros in the Eastern Bay area"), pick a location to meet, write some compelling copy about why they should join you and - voila! - instant target market on a plate!
Using LinkedIn regularly and intelligently could be deemed as "networking" on a broad level. You are certainly able to connect with peers who agree to receive your posts and communication, but LinkedIn remains an impersonal network shrouded by one-way conversations and profile-trawling.
What LinkedIn does do well is provide an access point to potential staff, peers, clients, suppliers and mentors. It's up to you to open the door and maximise your business opportunities.
Thankfully LinkedIn shows connection numbers higher than 500 as "500+", thus reducing the temptation to participate in a "see who's got the most connections" race. It's important to realise that having a large network of connections on LinkedIn does not automatically ensure financial gain. Like all social networks, you need to nuture your contacts, communicate without spamming and give your connections reasons to engage then convert.
However you do it, networking will serve to lift the visibility and profile of both yourself and your agency.
Networking should be more than just a "here's my business card, now buy from me". To maximise each opportunity you'll need to stay in touch, and regularly demonstrate the value you and your agency can offer.
The focus should be on building a "relationship"; and - as we all know - relationships need to be nurtured to survive and thrive. Networking is merely the first stage of the journey - the hard work is yet to come!
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