Professional service providers who have difficulty identifying specific targets (as discussed in Part 2 of our series on Building A Business Development Plan) typically have one thing in common: an anemic or non-existent professional network. If this sounds familiar, Part 3 In our series on creating your business development plan is for you. 

A healthy network is central to the development of new business for three reasons:

    • It informs you with respect to new opportunities;
    • It constantly connects you to targets; and,
    • It provides insight, information and resources that will help you move opportunities into and through your pipeline.

Monitoring the general health of your network will help insure that it is working for you — even when you are otherwise busy. So here are the basics of a quick 5-point check-up.

1. Check Your Network Make-up

At a minimum, a healthy network is made up of four types of connections:

  1. Individuals with the authority to make a hiring decision;
  2. Individuals and companies who, based on an awareness of you and your practice, are in a position to be a valuable referral source;
  3. Individuals who, based on first hand experience will eagerly recommend you; and,
  4. Individuals who are in a position to serve as a coach, providing intel and insight that will help you move the ball with someone empowered with hiring authority.

A robust network is chocked full of types 2, 3 and 4. Think of these as your growth agents — connections able to provide market intelligence, open doors, lend credibility, and offer tactical direction.

2. Insure That You Are Positioned to Grow

How big should your network be? This may well be one of those “if you have to ask, it isn’t big enough yet” questions.

The real answer is that your network should be big enough to consistently connect you to all the work you can find a way to manage. Until then, it will pay you to invest in network growth.

Rainmakers never stop focusing on the health of their network.

If you’re in the early stages of building, here are suggested areas where focus can produce quality network growth (focus on at least one of these sources each quarter as you construct your business development plan):

  • alumni groups — schools, former employers, associations and organizations you’ve been part of;
  • social, civic and charitable memberships and interests;
  • aligned or allied professional groups;
  • global professional and social networks such as Linked In or other professional directories.

3. Check Your Visibility

A thorough business development plan of action includes marketing tactics that create and maintain visibility with your targets as well as your professional network. Specifics will vary; but a healthy plan should connect you with every facet of your network a minimum of once-a-quarter. Minimum. Six to nine times a year will produce a better return on the time you’re investing.

Here are avenues that will help you accomplish this (select a couple a month to focus on in a strategic way):

  • a personalized communication calendar (birthday wishes/family events, industry trends, business intel) — and don’t underestimate the value of a handwritten note on those personal occasions;
  • volunteer for leadership roles, where appropriate — leadership positions grow your network exponentially, and often put you closer to targets who possess hiring authority;
  • offer value (speaking, presentations, other resources) for organizational/association meetings — you know this, of course…but remember that “value” here is defined by the individual or organization you’re focused on;
  • be a Connector — provide valued introductions, referrals and recommendations whenever you have the opportunity.

4. Take Stock of Your Equity

This is where the rubber of everything you categorize as networking meets the road that leads to the development of new business. A quick test is the degree to which your network is converting connections into business development assets.

If you’re not plugged into a network made up of relationships that connect you to opportunities and targets, your business development efforts are going to be frustrating and challenging. And the chances are good that you are simply wasting time and resources.

In practical terms, if frequent speaking gigs aren’t delivering network assets, rethink where you’re speaking. Note that we didn’t say stop speaking. This may be a valuable tool; you may simply be speaking to the wrong crowd.

Which leads us to one final thought on the subject of a professional network.

Quality Networking Is Intentional

We ought to come up with a new term. “Network” comes with a ton of baggage. It’s about happy hours with mediocre hors d’oeuvres. It’s about name tags and small-talk to fill awkward silence. And then its about trying to know when and how to talk about your practice.

Building (or tuning up) your professional network should be much more strategic than the way in which we often approach those networking events. Productive work begins with a plan — a simple one that might look like this:

  • Why does it make sense to engage in this activity?
  • What will make participating in this event/activity/exercise a success as it relates to my professional network?
  • Are there individuals (or groups) with whom connection provides unquestioned value?
  • What might be done to prearrange or orchestrate the meetings/activities noted in the two previous bullets?
  • What might be done to build a bridge to a natural follow up conversation or meeting?

When it comes to the development of new business, your professional network is the single most valuable asset you can possess. It alerts you to important movements and consequential change in the marketplace, and connects you to the right individuals and organizations.

And it is invaluable when it comes to naming strategic targets for your business development efforts.

When approached intentionally — who should you connect with, and why (that is, where does an individual or group fit in your overall business development strategy?) — the time and resources devoted to network development will begin to connect you to the targets and opportunities that will grow your practice.