Expanding Your Influence Through Networking

Mary Cantando

Are you one of the millions of women who dread selling? If so, you’re about to learn how to sidestep the most distasteful aspects of this critical function. You’re going to learn how to “Expand Your Influence.” Now don’t confuse this idea with traditional networking because it’s much more deliberate. I’m talking about developing a strategic “Influence Plan” and then moving forward to make it happen.

Relationships are the key to business success, but because you can only spend so much time meeting and greeting people, you’ve got to be selective. So, the first step in developing your influence plan is to create your Top 10 List—a running list of the ten individuals you know who can make the most difference in your business. Then you should make a positive connection with each of them at least once a month. Now that doesn’t mean that you simply send them your email newsletter or new marketing brochure. That might have value for you, but you want to do something that will have value for them, and you want to do it every month.

What does a “positive connection” look like? Well, it could be sending an article that relates to their business or personal life, or a funny card—something that says you know them as an individual. It could be a referral for new business, or a contact for a media interview, or an invitation to attend a luncheon or dinner meeting as your guest. This should not be a mass production effort where you send the same thing to all ten individuals. Rather, it should be a well thought out, personal engagement with each individual.

After you’ve created your Top 10 List, you should put a notice on your calendar to connect with each one each month. And then, every six months or so, stop and review your list with an eye towards individuals you’ve recently met. At that point, decide which individuals you should slide off of your list to be replaced by more influential recent contacts. If you do this right, your list should become more and more impressive over time.

To expand your area of influence, you need to be visible and involved. You need to associate with influencers—with movers and shakers—and your Top 10 List is the place to start.


Create Your Top 100 List

After you’ve got your Top 10 List working, create a list of 100 key people who should know about you and your business. Working from this list, create a plan to connect with each individual once a month for a year. If you do this correctly, you’ll find more value to these Top 100 than you would in a database of 10,000. To be successful with this approach, you have to work it month in and month out because if you haven’t contacted someone within the past few months then you are totally off of their radar screen.

While these connections don’t have to be as customized and time consuming as your Top 10 List, be sure they are meaningful. Maybe you see six of them at a NAWBO meeting; then cross those six off that month’s list. Then maybe you send a Valentine card to twenty of them and a copy of a relevant article to another twenty, and so forth.

While each of these doesn’t have to be an individual effort as with your Top 10 List, don’t just think you can send your email newsletter once a month and write all 100 off. Because, again your newsletter is about you; this interaction should be about them.

Once you’ve worked your Top 10 and Top 100 Lists for a few months, you’re positioned to move up the influence ladder.


Move Up the Influence Ladder

Have you ever noticed how people tend to stay within a certain comfort zone of friends and business associates? They feel at ease relating to a certain echelon of individuals and they are out of their comfort zone in moving up the ladder. I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing. I know some women who interact almost exclusively with the same business contacts they had ten years ago. But to grow your reputation dramatically, you’ve got to move up the influence ladder.

What do the rungs on this ladder look like? Well, depending on the needs of your business, they could be the spending power of the executives you’re dealing with, the level of peers you meet with on a regular basis, the type of organizations to which you belong, or your role within those organizations. If you want to achieve serious business goals, you must step out of your current network and into a group with wider, deeper, more powerful connections.

But just how do you do that?

When I decided to become a nationally-recognized expert in women-owned businesses, I knew that I could not achieve that goal by continuing to attend local chamber meetings. I had to move up the influence ladder from the local level to the regional, national, and then international level. This meant that I had to transition to organizations with more serious agendas, programs, and members. And I couldn’t just join these organizations, I had to become a recognized player, because there’s no reason to attend an event if people don’t remember you were there. So I searched out the appropriate national groups, took a deep breath, and called the executive director or president of each group.

I told them I wanted to become involved and was willing to commit significant time and effort to their organization. Then I asked for their advice—not their “help,” but their “advice”—on how I could best support their group. I then followed through on their recommendations—I did the real work that it took to be recognized as an important member of this group. And before long, I found myself sitting on international boards and national forums and committees. I was playing in the big leagues.

And the same thing worked for my writing and speaking. I started out writing pro bono articles for local, and then regional, newsletters and magazines. And although I still write for a few regional publications, I now write columns for several national publications. Where I had formerly spoken at local women’s meetings, I now set my sights on large regional, national, and international conferences. The key is to jump in and just get started, while continually seeking opportunities to move up the food chain and become a recognized expert in your industry.

How did I know when I had crossed the line? Well, there were a few indications. First, the media started referring to me as “the expert in women-owned businesses.” Enterprising Women magazine asked me to write for them and invited me to join their Advisory Board. Then, I was asked to become a board member of the Women Presidents’ Organization, and to become an Ambassador for the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Next, Women Entrepreneurs, Inc. asked me to become their “Growth Advisor” and write a regular column. And then I was invited to serve as an envoy of the US State Department in speaking to international women about growing their businesses. And, then, I was asked to write my newest book, The Woman’s Advantage: 20 Women Entrepreneurs Show You What it Takes to Grow Your Business.

As I move up my influence ladder, I continue to meet more influential women. And each of these women, in turn, positions me to meet even more influential women. Of course, I can’t just ride this ladder as though I were at an amusement park. I’ve got to attend all the meetings, do all the pro bono work, and write all the articles that I’ve committed to. But without a doubt, this is the most effective sales and marketing approach I’ve ever found.

Mary Cantando, speaker and consultant, and author of The Woman’s Advantage
Copyright 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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