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A Crash Course in Networking for Marketers Who Have No Time

Pam Neely

cartoon man and woman communicating via tin can telephone

We’ve all seen the auto-invites for connections and the direct message sales pitches on social media. There’s a better way to make friends and influence people.

How do you develop business relationships online? If you’re a solo marketing consultant or at a small agency, this is on par with keeping the lights on and your internet connection up. Even if you have a cushy job at a great company, we all know how fast that can change.

But putting yourself out there and promoting your services can seem pushy, tacky and even cheap. A lot of the time, networking is pushy—far too many people think they’re networking when they’re just shooting out cold emails, impersonal LinkedIn invites and auto direct messages on Twitter—none of which the senders would respond to themselves.

Nobody Likes Automated Networking

Whether a cold email or an automated social media message, this sort of networking turns people off.

Looking in my own LinkedIn inbox, I have three messages from three different accounts with the identical greeting and first sentence. How personalized (or persuasive) is that? Some of the notes in my account include fake typos, too—a trick to mask the automation.

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This is why personalizing your messages is still effective; so few people do it. Personalizing your messages isn’t hard, either. Look at people’s activity on social media, see what they share, what they comment on and what they like. Click through and actually look at their websites. It takes three minutes or less.

Incredibly, much of the networking or outreach done doesn’t even go this far. If you can add a small personal touch and actually make yourself useful, you’ll get dramatically better results.

“But…” you argue, “That takes a lot of time! I don’t have that much time.”

And you don’t—I don’t. None of us do. Even if you’re at home, unemployed and have no scheduled commitments for the next month, you still probably don’t have that much time.

Fortunately, there is a way to do relationship-building that’s far better than the automated DM and invites. It’s called social selling. Our friends in sales have been doing it for years. Marketers, however, seem to have held back on this a bit. Maybe we’ve been thinking, “That’s a sales thing. I’ll leave it to them.”

But marketers need some of the skills sales pros have, just as sales pros have had to learn strategies from marketing. Consultative sales uses an educational approach to sell in the same way marketers use content marketing to educate their buyers.

Social selling uses that same no-sell, no-ask, educational approach to send personalized communications that genuinely attempts to be helpful. But to do that you’ll need some great content to share.

Content Curation for One-to-One Networking

This doesn’t have to be your own content. Content curation has always been the best way to fill up a social media feed. Curation is basically just sharing other people’s content and adding a bit of your own commentary. And third-party content, incredibly, is often more trusted than the content that brands publish themselves.

There are plenty of services, including Quuu and Feedly, that can help you find great content to share. But that’s only phase one. Unfortunately, it’s only as far as some of us take it. To do social selling, or just to build a legitimate network, you need to find good content for specific people you’re connected to.

Gaining a client, getting a job or generating more influence requires a network. It doesn’t even need to be a big network, just a strong one.

I read a study one day and found an interesting tidbit about surveys. I have a connection who’s a CEO at a survey company I wanted to write for, so I sent him a note about what I learned. Not only did he reply, but he also invited me to his private Facebook group filled with high-value networking and a group of smart, friendly people. The CEO also asked what my availability was for some work and what my rates were.

That’s more of a response than I would have gotten from sending seven cold-pitch emails, even if they were highly personalized with a valuable piece of advice tailored for each person.

Normally, it takes me 40 minutes to send a hyper-personalized pitch email. Sending seven of those emails would have taken 280 minutes for the same results that I got from 15 minutes of sending a relevant article.

Sending personalized, curated content will get you further than automated messages. But there’s still more work to do.

Build Your Network Intentionally with a ‘Make Friends With’ List

The trick to building a genuine network is to limit who you connect with.

Sure, there are people who can do more than 200 coffee meetings in one year and people who can go to 20 conferences annually and make connections with 20 people at each. That’s great and I aspire to that level of connection, but that’s industrial-grade networking.

Fortunately, that level of super-networking isn’t necessary to build an enviable network than moves you forward. Consider what Tim Hughes, author of Social Selling: Techniques to Influence Buyers and Changemakers, says about network size: “First and foremost, community is not measured in the number of followers you have. We are aware of people with 400 followers who, because of their niche, have been able to build a community.”

To build a community or a network, you’ll need content to attract people’s attention, to share to your social media feeds and to directly send to prospects to nurture your relationship with them. This is why that list of 400 is so important. If you had to send a personalized note with a relevant article to 5,000 people, you’d go crazy. But with just 400 people, you can send one article a day to each person on your list.

Frankly, you might not even want to do that. If 400 seems too much, make up a “Make Friends With” list of 50-200 people you’d like to connect with. You’re not going to be best friends with them, but you’d like to build the type of relationship where they would open and respond to an email you’d send them. They might say “yes” if you asked them to present a webinar or do a podcast interview. They’d take a call from you, maybe even meet you for coffee.

If you pick your list carefully, 50-200 of the right people are enough of a network to change your business or to catapult you toward being recognized as a thought leader or an influencer, which is what 19% of mid-level marketers say they’d like to be.

Just don’t only go after the industry superstars. Here’s a possible mix for your list:

  • 10% rockstars of your industry and in business overall.
  • 30% those who might hire you.
  • 30% near your career level who may become stars.
  • 10% starting out in their careers or who haven’t yet started their careers.
  • 20% in tangentially related industries, or who do things you’re enthusiastic about.

As you build your list, think about where you want to be in five to 10 years. Do you want to be the VP at your company? Do you want your own agency? Do you want to write a bestseller or be an event organizer? Choose people you genuinely admire, but who might also help you to get where you want to go.

Gaining a client, getting a job or generating more influence requires a network. It doesn’t even need to be a big network, just a strong one.

Instead of spamming people to make connections, be helpful and listen. Be generous with your expertise and connect with people you genuinely admire and want to support. Should you see an opportunity to help them, carefully offer help with no strings attached.

Pam Neely has been in digital marketing for 20 years. She’s a serial entrepreneur and content marketing enthusiast with a background in publishing and journalism, receiving a New York Press Award and a Hermes Creative Award for blogging. She has a master’s degree in direct and interactive marketing from New York University.